The ubiquity of social media cannot be denied, especially by those who have received a friend request from their mothers on Facebook. The rise of social media has changed how people interact with one another. Further, social media's prevalence has altered the manner in which consumers view and make use of brands. Because of these changes, it is increasing difficult to differentiate promotions that are sponsored by brand owners from content organically created without any company affiliation. The confluence of these factors affect the manner in which brand owners protect their valuable intellectual property.
Naturally, brands owners are very interested in maintaining the strength of their intellectual property rights and minimizing any potential damage to the goodwill that they have worked so hard to create. Consumers freely upload photographs and videos and create fan pages and parody sites that feature certain products or brands. In turn, brand owners receive the benefit of the time and energy that consumers expend promoting their favorite products. Yet, in doing so, brand owners are relinquishing a limited amount of brand control to these social-media savvy consumers.
Given the positive aspects of brand promotion in social media, the difficult question is how to respond when user-generated content potentially harms the brand's goodwill or the brand owner's reputation. Even if the exposure is well-intentioned, user-generated content may be too edgy for the brand or not appropriate for certain audiences that have access to it. Brand owners can and should attempt to mitigate any potential damage to their goodwill or intellectual property rights.
There is some finesse to controlling uses of brands in social media. An approach viewed as heavy-handed or overly corporate may create public outcry or misplaced sympathy for an infringer. Nevertheless, it is critical to appropriately respond to the misuse of brands in social media. We have found the following guidelines useful in successfully resolving such disputes.