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Fair Use and Copyright in Social Media Marketing

7. March 2014 08:28

People on the computer in an office

Ever been in this situation? You're killing time trying to find the end of the Internet. You scroll through news stories, do a little online window-shopping, and read a few posts from your favorite bloggers. If something strikes your fancy, you may decide to share the content or image on your business's social media pages to get your fans and followers talking.

But that's where small-business owners can run into problems.

If you don't have the author's permission or license to distribute their work, you could be sued for copyright infringement. While carrying small business insurance can cover the costs associated with a copyright infringement lawsuit, being sued is a stressful ordeal that no one wants to face. So how can you reap the perks of using social media without running the risk of infringing on someone's copyrights?

Certain uses of copyrighted material on social media sites fall under the umbrella of "fair use," which is the only real defense against copyright infringement. Ready to find out how to follow fair use guidelines so you can avoid copyright infringement lawsuits? Read on for the juicy details.

What is Copyrighted Work, Anyway?

Copyright laws protect intellectual property – even those works that may first appear untethered to an author. Copyrighted works include photographs, videos, memes, and blog posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube.

The person who creates an original work owns the copyright to that work, regardless of whether they've officially registered the material or not. Only a copyright holder can decide whether their work is distributed or publicly displayed. They are also the only person who can license the work for others to use and distribute. (Read about two media companies' expensive copyright mistake in the post, "When Twitter Marketing Isn’t Free – Copyright Violations That Cost Businesses Serious Money.")

If you share another person's copyrighted work on social media without their licensure or permission, you could be held liable for infringing on their exclusive rights. The exception would be if your actions fall under the jurisdiction of "fair use."

The Four Components of Fair Use

As mentioned earlier, fair use is the only complete defense against a copyright infringement claim. But the line between infringement and fair use can be subjective, so courts must consider each case individually. The following are the four criteria used to evaluate alleged copyright violations:

Fair Use or Foul Play? Mitigate Your Social Media Copyright Infringement Risks

It's up to the court to decide how much consideration each fair use factor receives. What one court may find to be in fair use, another court may rule as copyright infringement. So instead of hoping that a fair use defense will raft you through any potential infringements social media infringements, follow these tips to minimize the risk of facing a costly advertising liability lawsuit:

To learn more about other risks you may come up against when marketing your small business on social media, read our post "Social Media and Business Risk: Slander, Libel, Invasion of Privacy, and Copyright Infringement."

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Advertising Injury | General Liability Insurance | Home-Based Business | Risk Management | Small Business | Small Business Risk Management | Tips for All Small Businesses

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