Trademarks apply in the social media world, just as they do in the traditional marketing world. Thus, just as you wouldn’t allow a competitor down the street to operate using a similar brand name or a similar logo, you can stop competitors, rivals or “haters” from creating fake social media accounts that mimic the look, feel, and design of your trademarks.
While all the largest brands have teams of lawyers and in-house counsel to look after their trademarks, the issue is more complex for smaller businesses. It’s a lot easier for a huge company like Starbucks or Adidas to protect their logos and trademarks than it is for a smaller company.
Keep in mind – these companies are absolutely vigilant about any new product launch that even closely resembles what they offer. Starbucks, for example, has filed a trademark suit against a New York coffee company that created the “freddocino” drink (too similar to the Starbucks “frappucino”!) and Adidas has filed a lawsuit against the popular retailer Forever 21 for creating a line of clothing featuring three stripes (Adidas considers the three-stripe fashion look to be completely trademarked).
So, in much the same way, you can view the social media activity of any other user on the Internet as constituting a “commercial activity” that possibly infringes on your trademark. And this goes well beyond just copying the look of your logo for a social media avatar icon! Intellectual property lawyers have suggested that a word, a phrase – and even a hashtag – that is “confusingly similar” to one that your brand has been using falls under the purview of intellectual property law.
However, this is perhaps easier said than done. Social media use is completely global, so you have to worry about possible trademark infringement in other countries. And there’s another thing to keep in mind – it’s currently very popular for social media handles to include the words “fake” and “real” in them. But here’s the thing – just because a Twitter user is calling himself or herself @therealCocaCola doesn’t mean that the user has anything to do with Coca-Cola whatsoever!
The good news is that all of the major social media platforms make it easy to verify identities for celebrities and top brands. Thus, on Twitter, you might see a blue verified badge (a check mark inside a blue circle) next to a name - this indicates that the account has been verified. For any brand owner, this should be a starting point, so that fans and followers can see that it is you - and not some fake user – who is creating the content.
The next step that you can take to protect a trademark is a bit more complicated, but it’s called a “takedown notice.” If you spot offending content that violates your trademarks on social media, you can ask the social media platform to take it down. Most social media sites make it very easy – on Twitter, for example, you can report specific tweets for violations. That’s the reason why you might see YouTube videos disappearing from time to time – the brand owner has discovered that someone was improperly using their video content, and then filed a takedown notice.
In the social media era, brands matter more than ever. So if you spot someone using your trademarks improperly on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media platform, you’re fully within your power to stop this improper commercial activity that infringes on your hard-earned brand equity.
Learn more about social media marketing and other channels and how they all work together in “Multichannel Fluidity.”Read the guide