Are Your Tweets Illegal?

Do you have an employee or consultant managing your social media pages?

Do you know where that person gets his/her social media posts?

Is it original material?  Is it taken from somewhere else?

These are all important questions to discuss with the manager of your company's social media presence because of the intellectual property rights created in social media posts and the potential exposure at stake for violating someone else's intellectual property rights.

Last week it was reported by The Verge that Twitter has been removing Tweets that have been copied from someone else.  A professional writer in Los Angeles noticed that several people had used her joke without giving her proper credit.  She informed Twitter about this improper use, and the company deleted these peoples' Tweets.

Twitter recognized that the writer had the legal authority to demand the removal of these copycat Tweets.  Social media posts, whether it's a Tweet or a Facebook update or an Instagram picture, are copyrighted materials. Under copyright law, the owner of that copyright can enforce certain intellectual property rights, including demanding that the social media company remove any material reposted without the original owner's consent.

As a result, to ensure that you are not violating someone's intellectual property rights:

  • Give Credit: If you want to share someone else's Tweet, don't just copy that Tweet and post it into your Twitter feed.  Retweet the Tweet or repost it so that the original Tweeter gets the recognition.
  • Get Permission: If you want to share something that is not public, such as a customer's comments or a picture of someone who attended one of your company's events, you need to get that person's permission and, preferably, have the permission in writing.

Alternatively, if you believe that someone else has used your original material online without your permission, then you have several options:

  • Notify the Social Media Company: If your material has been posted via a social media company, like Twitter or Facebook, you can work with the company to get that material removed.
  • Cease and Desist: If you know the identity of the person or company who has used your material, you can send that person/company a cease and desist letter.

Litigation: Although the costs of litigation may far outweigh any damage that has been done, seeking a remedy through the courts may be the only option.  One recent example involves a San Diego man, who has sued Conan O'Brien for allegedly stealing jokes that the man had posted on his blog and Twitter.  The man is demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars in actual and statutory damages.  The case has only recently been filed, so we will keep you posted on whether the man succeeds in his claims.

To discuss these options or anything else related to managing your social media presence, please contact our office at 814-870-7600 or complete this form on our website.