Copyright protects original works of authorship, including literary works (which includes computer programs), dramatic, musical (including lyrics), artistic (including pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works), motion pictures and other audiovisual works, sound recordings, architectural works, compilations, collective works, and derivative works. A copyright gives its owner the exclusive right to reproduce the work, sell or distribute the work, make derivatives based upon it, perform it, and display it (and to license any or all of these rights to others).

Managing Risk When Reusing Others’ Content

Most social media tools, by design, encourage their users to share others’ content. Whether it is reposting on Facebook, re-tweeting on Twitter, or pinning on Pinterest, reusing others’ content makes up much of what happens in social media. None of the social media platforms, however, will protect businesses if they are sued for copyright infringement. Quite the opposite, each specifically disclaims liability and states that users are responsible for the content they post. In some cases the terms of use that appear on the platform site may require that the user indemnify the platform from any third party claims of infringement.

It is important, therefore, that businesses create and enforce policies with respect to what it posts and what it allows employees to post on social media. The approach with the least risk is to only post original content and to never repost other users’ content unless and until the following questions can be answered:

  • Does the user actually own the copyright in the work?
  • If so, does the user give the business permission to reuse the work?
  • Is any attribution necessary in order to reuse the work
  • Are there any other permissions that need to be obtained, such as the right of publicity from any people whose images are used or products that are displayed in the work?

If the answer to any of the above questions gives you pause, it is better to skip reusing the content than risk an infringement action.

Policing Others’ Use of Original Content

It is equally important to monitor others’ use of your own original content, and to think about your goals in the content’s use. Perhaps you are creating a work that you want to go viral and be shared and reshared by thousands. On the other hand, you may be creating something that took a great deal of time, talent, and/or money to come to fruition. In that case, it may make sense to actively monitor others’ use of your work and take steps to stop infringement when it happens. Depending on the amount of time and money you spent in creating the work, or the likelihood that others might infringe upon it, registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office may make sense. Registration is not necessary to obtain or maintain your copyright, but it is required before bringing a legal action against an infringer, and timely registration can preserve additional rights and remedies available under the Copyright Act. Copyright registration is a relatively inexpensive process and is highly recommended for the benefits it provides.

Before going to the expense of filing a legal action against an infringer, sending a cease and desist letter to the infringer, or having your legal counsel do so, can be a relatively simple and cost effective way to stop the infringement.

CREDIT: The content of this post has been copied or adopted from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s “A Legal Guide to the Use of Social Media in the Workplace” Guidebook