With so much online content out there, it’s hard to know who actually owns what you’re sharing. Emma Green, an IP lawyer at Bird & Bird, shares her top tips on how to protect your content from being reused.
In my day job as an IP lawyer, I get to work with businesses at the most exciting stage of their journey: pre-launch or during a phase of growth. I work with clients to help them make the most of their brand identity, future proof their business, get them investor ready and make sure sponsorship and collaboration agreements work in their favour. We also work together to make sure any IP issues or disputes are dealt with as quickly and cost efficiently so they can get on with running their business.
The other side to my job is co-leading the Wellness group at B&B – we work with a large number of ‘wellness clients’ and help them tackle their legal to-do list, providing mentoring and business advice and help clients to spot opportunities to help their business grow to its full potential.
Who owns our online content?
It all depends on who created the content. Online content, such as blog posts, newsletters and articles are all protected by copyright in the UK.
Copyright is an intellectual property right, which arises automatically in written work and also layout and arrangement of pages.
The copyright author is the person who creates the work and, as a general starting point, the copyright author will also be the exclusive owner of that content (meaning third parties need their consent to reproduce or edit the work). If you’ve commissioned someone to write your blog content for you, they will own copyright in that content – that means you need to make sure it’s assigned (transferred) over to you/your business so that you own it.
If you’ve worked on the content alongside someone else, you may be considered co-authors in which case you’ll need to agree with them before you let any third parties use or reproduce that content.
Who owns our social media content?
If we’re thinking about graphics and images this time, it’s the person who creates that content by physically taking the photo. These kind of works are also protected by copyright, in the same way as written works. Make sure you have an agreement with anyone who works for or with you to create image content that you will own the rights in those images (and get them to assign those rights to you if you can) or at the least that you’re licensed to use those images.
Take care to read the terms of any licence you accept
You might need to give credit to the copyright owner, be prohibited from editing or making other alterations to the original image, and you may not be the only one they licence to use the image.
How do we know how networks and websites will reuse our content?
If you’re working with a partner to promote your product or service, make sure there’s a clear agreement on whether or not they’re allowed to reuse your content and if so, on which platform, how they can use it and for how long. Also make sure that you’re clear about the need to credit either you, or the third party owners of any copyright content they want to reuse (and if you don’t own the content, that you’ve asked the person who does if it’s ok for it to be used in this way). Equally make sure you’re clear on how you can use or cross promote any third party brand (especially relevant for endorsement or collaboration deals).
Aside from that, it’s just a case of monitoring the relevant platforms to keep a look out for unauthorised content and then taking good quality, dated screenshots of that work as evidence.
Is there anything we can do to protect our content?
Yes – for written website content, make sure you have a declaration of rights at the bottom of your web page – this can be as simple as © 2018, (you/your company name) – you can also put this in the source code of the content as part of the page header.
For image content you can insert this same acknowledgement in the bottom corner of the image and make sure you put credits in captions on social platforms.
For longer pieces, it’s sometimes worth actually making an innocuous error or identifiable trait in the text – we call this a ‘sleeper’.
Then if you find what you suspect to be a copy, you can check for the sleeper and, if it’s there, it’s a clear indication of direct copying. Artists, illustrators and graphic designs can often do something similar, or otherwise make sure files are password protected with ownership details in the file profile, before sending to third parties.
And just be upfront and honest about how you want, or don’t want, your content to be used.
Yes definitely, this is a really important part of any online platform. Privacy notices are essential for any consumer facing business with an online presence as visitors to a site need to be clear about how you will manage their data, will cookies be placed on their computer, what data do you collect from the site, how do you manage newsletters etc. Content rights can be a small paragraph at the top of the policy, explaining whether you own trade marks (and if so what) and who has ownership of the online content.
Someone reused my content without permission – what’s my first step?
Good housekeeping here is essential – you should keep good records about who created what content and when and who now owns that content. Keeping your offline content files dated and well-ordered will really help with this, and make sure you deal with questions over ownership of content when it’s being created – it’s easier to get an assignment when the relationship is ongoing rather than having to revisit several years after the content creation. This is important as it’s only the owner of the content who is able to stop infringing or copied works.
When you find something suspicious, get the evidence – take screenshots or print outs of the content you think is infringing, and make sure those copies are dated.
Try and work out how much has been copied – is it identical or is it only inspired by your work? It’s going to be more difficult to stop if the work has only used your content as inspiration. But it’s a value judgment, and you may want to take professional advice from an IP lawyer who works with copyright to assess your options.
For more from Emma, head to her profile on the Bird & Bird website.