Steps Brand Owners Can Take to Deal With Brandjacking on Social Networks

[Post by Venkat]

Winston & Strawn published an article titled [pdf] “Five Steps to Protect Your Trademarks in a Web 2.0 World.” The article sets out some steps brand owners can take to prevent or deal with infringement of their marks on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

I thought the article was great because it urged a measured approach. Here is a summary of the five recommended steps (I particularly liked step one!):

1. Don’t panic.

2. Be proactive (get familiar with the sites – “maintain some presence”).

3. Don’t go guns blazing against the social networking website – it’s tough to hold the social networking site liable (Tony La Russa’s lawsuit against Twitter is an example of this approach).

4. Use the tools and informal processes provided by the site.

5. Use traditional enforcement strategies.

Consider the Internet Reaction: I would also add one to the list: consider how the internet will react, and take a close look at possible fair use, parody, satire, and First amendment issues. The internet does not react kindly to overzealous brand owners who are not mindful of these issues. Also, it is well worth monitoring any reaction, and having some sort of plan in place to deal with it.

The Streisand Effect: Along these lines, as mentioned in the article, consider the “Streisand effect” (a term coined by Mike Masnick according to internet lore).

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As described in the article, there have been “few lawsuits . . . for infringement occurring in a social networking context.” This points in the direction that either infringement on social networks isn’t as rampant as people think, or that brand owners are satisfied with the informal processes made available by sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Related: Someone recently started a Twitter account for “@BPGlobalPR,” noted by VF Daily here: “Somehow, the Internet Appears Not to Understand ‘BPGlobalPR’ Twitter Is a Joke.” While the account is obviously intended as a joke (sample tweet: “Doing our best to turn oil into oilinade. So far the stuff tastes TERRIBLE”), it has over 15,000 followers (which is more than the real BP account has). At least some of those followers appear to take the account seriously.

I can’t think of the best approach to dealing with this situation from BP’s standpoint, but one suggestion I would not rule out is to hire the person running the account to be on BP’s public relations team. Whoever he or she is has a sharp wit and marketing chops (at least when it comes to Twitter)! I’m mostly joking, and in any event, this is pretty far-fetched, given that BP’s PR team can’t be happy with the person running this account.

Added: The BrandBuilder Blog has a detailed post on the BPGlobalPR Twitter account that’s worth reading: “Living in the past = working in the past: How not to get ‘brandjacked’ like BP Global PR.” As noted in that post, the BPGlobalPR Twitter account started up on May 19, 2010!

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