In an article published at the end of 2014, the Wall Street Journal listed IP Rights as one of the Top 3 Legal Issues Facing marketers in 2015. The new sharing culture promulgated by social media challenges brand owners to determine new boundaries. Linda Goldstein writes:
“What is the legal status of a hashtag, can consumer tweets and posts be shared, can they reach out and “touch” or communicate with consumers who have commented on their brands? … This year, Duane Reade’s retweeting of a photo of Katherine Heigl holding a Duane Reade bag resulted in a $6 million lawsuit that ultimately settled. These and similar questions are likely to continue to plague brands. Furthering this challenge, real-time marketing has become the new norm requiring that these decisions be made quickly. Witness the speed with which the now famous Oscar night selfie was retweeted across the globe. Brands will have to assess their own risk tolerance levels and adopt policies and procedures that afford marketers the flexibility to react in real time, while not creating undue legal risk for the company.”
Coca-Cola may prove to be a trail-blazer in this area. They are choosing to promote and protect their brand by applying for trademarks for their hashtags #cokecanpics and #smilewithacoke. Though Twitter is currently not the most successful social network, hashtags have become a popular tool for searching published messages. Coca-Cola could be a pioneer if the USPTO grants their applications.
Click here to read the rest of the WSJ article.