Social media is an environment rich with opportunities for small businesses to connect with users, share content and convert customers. However, as the internet and social media have evolved, hard rules on content ownership and copyrights have taken a back seat to progress.
Copyright can be a tricky minefield to navigate, but paying attention to it is critical to avoid public backlash and legal consequences. We’ll share advice on avoiding infringing on intellectual property when promoting your business on social media.
Ryan Vacca, a professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a member of the school’s Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property, said copyright law’s goal is to protect original creative expression – and images fall under this protection.
“For most pieces of creative work, it easily satisfies the minimally creative standard if – assuming they didn’t rip it off from somebody else – the original creator is going to have some copyright protection in that image,” Vacca explained.
Typical ways businesses may unwittingly infringe on copyright law include the following:
The only person who can hold a business or individual accountable for copyright infringement is the work’s original creator. If you download or copy an image and the creator doesn’t notice, doesn’t care or decides not to act, you may not have to worry. But relying on flying under the radar is not a good practice, as you’re exposing yourself to serious risks.
According to Vacca, if the original creator registers their work in a timely fashion with the copyright office, the maximum penalty for copyright infringement is $150,000 per work. This cost doesn’t include legal and attorneys fees.
The litigation process is expensive, and the original creator could elect for quicker, less expensive alternatives like sending a cease and desist letter, sending a bill for their work, or using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to send a takedown notice.