Anything published online lasts forever, so it is important to set the right tone for your company’s online communications and to mean what you say from the outset. You might try to retract or amend these public statements, but it is relatively easy to find prior versions, thus causing embarrassing or false statements to not truly disappear, says Christina D. Frangiosa, an attorney at Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC.
“It’s safer to wait to publish materials to the Web until you have confirmed they are accurate, not misleading and not based on someone else’s intellectual property rights,” she says. “False statements about either your company’s products or about a competitor or its products could lead to lawsuits claiming false advertising, unfair competition or commercial disparagement. Misuse of the company’s or a competitor’s intellectual property can result in a loss of rights, or even, perhaps, an injunction or damages.”
Smart Business spoke with Frangiosa about avoiding legal mistakes on the Internet.
How should you handle statements about your competitors and their products?
Avoid knowingly making false statements about a competitor or the quality of its products. Publishing statements about them without appropriate due diligence could result in negative publicity for your company, corrective advertising costs or monetary damages.
How does cutting and pasting content from other websites create copyright concerns?
Many users have a common misconception: If they can find ‘free’ content on the Internet, then they must be able to use that content for any purpose. Just because content may be freely accessible does not mean that you have a right to use it. Copyright holders have exclusive rights, including the ability to choose to publish or not to publish their works; posting something on a public website constitutes publication. Copying and pasting someone else’s images, text or video into your company’s website without permission could expose the company to copyright or trademark infringement suits, among other claims.
How might misuse in social media undermine company trademarks?
Companies today use their websites and social media to communicate about their products or services. Specific employees may be assigned to prepare and/or post content. These employees should be informed about how to use the company’s trademarks to further develop the brand and maintain existing rights. If employees misuse these trademarks on the company’s sites, they may unknowingly undermine the value of the brand, and perhaps cause problems for trademark renewals or other filings.
Some employees may also use the company’s marks on personal social media. For example, an executive might use a company logo rather than a headshot on his or her Facebook page. Any statement made on these pages about company business could be seen as a formal company representation, and perhaps cause problems for the company with the Securities and Exchange Commission or other governing bodies.
What can you do to protect against these pitfalls?
- Create your own content, rather than relying on design elements you see on other sites. This may have a higher upfront cost but could reduce your litigation exposure in the long run.
- Seek a license to use any content in which you are interested, and pay the appropriate royalty fee for its use. There are organizations that accept those royalty payments on behalf of content owners.
- Obtain images, videos or other content from a valid image collection service, authorized by the copyright owner.
- Ensure employees understand the source of the content they plan to use before they upload it to the company’s site. They should be trained to avoid the impulse to right-click, ‘save as’ and then upload.
- Avoid using a competitor’s trademarks to advertise your own goods or services.
- Ensure employees understand the appropriate use of trademarks.
- Establish a social media policy that includes explanations of limits on use of the company’s trademarks.
Christina D. Frangiosa is an attorney at Semanoff Ormsby Greenberg & Torchia, LLC. Reach her at (215) 887-0200 or email@example.com.
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