Social Media Law in Plain Ol' English

We had the pleasure of attending Social Media Law 101, a presentation given by Daliah Saper of Saper Law Firm, and hosted by the Social Media Club Chicago Chapter. Members from various industries gathered to learn the dos and don’ts of managing their brands on social media networks. Naturally, the jargon surrounding law can be daunting, but we took away some basic, yet important, best practices businesses and organizations should know in managing their social media platforms. Keep in mind that highly regulated industries like securities and trades, or special sectors of government have their own set of laws you need to adhere to. Keep those in mind when managing your social media channels!

Content Ownership

You work hard to produce quality content for your target audience, so who owns the content you post to Facebook? Although this myth has been debunked before, there still seems to be uncertainty lingering about who owns your content once you post it to Facebook. The short answer is YOU, and this appears to be the consensus for all major social media networks.

“What’s yours is yours – you own your Content (and your photos are part of that Content).” Twitter Terms of Service

You own your content, but they reserve the right to do with it what they want with that content. See Facebook and Twitter's Terms of Use for details.


Photos and Graphics

You host a workshop or event for your organization. You have a great turn out, attendees are engaged and your event is a success. You want a few photos to share on your blog or Instagram. Is it ok to take and post photos without the express written consent of the attendees? As a general rule of thumb, yes. So long as you don’t go plastering those photos on a billboard or ad in an attempt to make profit.

During the presentation we revisited a lawsuit filed against Virgin Mobile when they used a teen's photo for a promotion. Keep in mind that even if you use a photo from Flickr or any photo with a Creative Commons License, the person in the photo still has a right to publicity – the right of an individual to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, likeness, or other unequivocal aspects of one's identity.

Facebook Contests

The terms of use of social media channels change often. At the time of this posting, Facebook simply wants to ensure that brands aren’t putting users under the impression that Facebook endorses your contest in any way. Adding a disclaimer i.e. This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook will communicate to your followers and participants that Facebook is not affiliated with your contest. See Facebook Page Guidelines Section III, E for details.

Graphics and Images

The misuse of graphics and images are still all too familiar with brands, particularly smaller organizations. Just because an image is featured on a ‘free downloads’ website does not mean you are free to use those images as you please. As best practice, if you can't find the original creator and their terms of use for that photo or image, don't use it. If you’re unsure of the terms of use and you can’t get in touch with the creator of that image, don’t use it. Copyright laws protect the creator.  Never google an image, and use it on your site. Check out Katelyn Brooke Design's Guide to Using Images on your Blog for reference. Print it out and give it to your staff.

Can I own a hashtag?

You can indeed trademark a hashtag, under certain circumstances. You can’t just trademark a catch phrase; you have to prove that it is a part of your brand. This is important for people and organizations that host Twitter chats and have worked hard to build a following and engagement through those chats.

If you’ve outsourced your social media, your social media manager should already be implementing these practices. There are so many legal ramifications around each scenario and you should consult with a lawyer for questions about your specific case.  What are some issues or scenarios you’ve come across in managing your social media platforms?

This blog post is not to be substituted for legal advice. Please consult with a lawyer for questions. We are in no way affiliated with Daliah Saper or Saper Law Firm.


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