Last post was about creating a Social Media Policy with respect to the employer-employee relationship. The idea is to minimize potential suits between the employee and employer. Issues like prohibiting certain behaviors, such as posting negative comments or former employees taking company information should be the concern with an internal policy.
However, many businesses are coming to realize the potential power of blogs, Twitter, and Facebook and readily use social media as a marketing and advertising tool. And why not? It is free, relatively easy to set-up, and allows you a good amount of control over content. However, just like internal disputes you can quickly wind up with external disputes with other companies, commenters, and the like over issues of intellectual property infringement and defamation.
Advertising Statements: Puffing Yourself Up and Tearing Down the Competition
FTC and Endorsements: Disclose Your Relationship
Generally, marketing, advertising, and public relations specialists are comfortable with using mere words of puffery. They also know that it has been the law that if an ad features an endorser who’s a relative or employee of the marketer or if that endorse has been give something of value in exchange for praise of the marketer’s product or service the ad must disclose the connection. The point is that knowing about the connection helps the reader or watcher evaluate the quality of the endorsement.
This attitude comes into play when using social media as well. Specifically, the FTC has issued guidelines about how bloggers, and social media specialists talk about a company’s product or services. This includes your employees, as well as any marketer, advertiser, or in generally someone speaking on your behalf and you give them something expecting endorsements.
Say you have a new delicious musubi (rice ball) that you want people in Honolulu to know about. One of your employees is a well-known food blogger. You give her a sample of the product with the intention that she is to eat it and then rave about it on her blog. If she does not state that she is your an employee you would be violating the FTC guidelines.
Defamation: Don't Start Ugly Rumors
On the flip side is going after the competition. If you or your employees typically engage in discussions via Twitter, Facebook, or comments on your company’s blog you may sometimes start joking with one another. It is easy to see that this leads to making fun of the competition’s products and services. However, going too far may mean making false statements that damages their reputation. In this situation, you may be slapped with a defamation suit.
The general better policy in a situation like this is to remind people to be positive in their postings rather than taking the low road. Above all do not engage in the rumor mill thinking that the amount of information going out there will protect you. Once something gets sent out onto the Internet it is almost impossible to take back. Just look at some of our politicians and celebrities to realize the truth of that fact.
Intellectual Property: Using Other Works
Many people love to share images or quotes on their Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, or blogs. Generally, they search the web for a cute image and slap it on their post and think they are done. While, they think that is ok, what they are unaware is that they are infringing on the person who took or made that image’s intellectual property (IP) rights. When it comes to business the stakes are higher because the owner believes you are using their working to make a profit.
Copyright and Trademark Infringement
In general, when using images and phrases the best policy is to create your own or license it out. Do not take images and words from another’s website and slap it on your own trying to claim it as your own. For a prime example of this you can look at my own blog. Many of the images I use are stock photos, if I were to go to another law firm’s website and start taking their images and pdf files and posting them here, and claiming them as my own those would be violations of the firm’s intellectual property rights. While, there may be a “fair use” exemption it is less likely you will get to use it for your money-making company blog, Twitter, or Facebook page.
Best policies are to create or license the images you want to use, be sure to use attribution links and short quotes from another site. The last thing in the social mediaverse is you want to be known as a thief of people’s IP. Always clear use of photos, music, works, etc . . . if you don’t know where they come from.
By the way, remember that people do have publicity rights this includes their image, likeness, and name much like a company controls their trademarks and copyrights, celebrities and people control their image.
Next week, I will wrap-up this section with some general tips of crafting a policy and what to think about and some other miscellany. In general, if you are concerned or feel that your company and employees need a re-training or updating on social media and the laws talk to an expert and have an attorney review and draft your policies.
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See you next time!
*Disclaimer: This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect. No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction. Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.