Social media influencers and content creators work hard to build a reputation of expertise for specific topics, brands and industries. In fact, the influencer marketing industry is projected to be worth $15 billion by 2022 and currently accounts for roughly 15 percent of the total global ad spend. In the course of creating content and a brand – influencers also craft various forms of protectable intellectual property. So how do you protect your digital content?

While many intellectual property (IP) rights are automatic, there are reasons to register your intellectual property including: 

  • You can only sue for monetary damages if someone infringes on your registered copyright or trademarks
  • Official registration reduces the risk of others stealing your creative works and marks
  • Registered trademarks help make your brand more recognizable
  • Trademark registration also prevents others from using your name or logos in an attempt to mislead or steal your audience
  • Registering your intellectual property makes it easier to get infringing content taken down

In this article we’ll provide common examples of IP created by influencers and give instructions for registering a trademark and copyright. We’ll also discuss a few basics to ensure you’re respecting others IP rights and complying with each social platform’s intellectual property policies. 

Let’s start with a look at the verticals of intellectual property most applicable to social media influencers. 

Common Intellectual Property Owned by Influencers and Creators

Social media influencers create forms of content that can qualify as protectable intellectual property. Trademarks and copyrights are the most common. You can trademark your domain names, logos, hashtags, and online aliases. 

You can secure copyright protection for videos, photos, written text, artwork, and sound recordings. Furthermore, you can also copyright images and visuals you create, as well as dance moves, slogans, and phrases. 

While copyrights protect your creative content from being used without your permission, trademarks can prevent others from using your brand to mislead followers. Both forms of IP provide you with a way to set yourself apart from others and profit from your content. 

 

Influencers Must Respect the IP Rights of Others

Just as you would want others to respect your IP rights and ask permission or pay for a license to use your copyrighted or trademarked material – you need to carefully protect the IP rights of others. If you plan to reference another creator or use their work on your social media, make sure you obtain proper permission. If you make any direct references to another brand, including their products or services, you may want to get their permission first. 

In a nutshell, remember to always seek permission before using any of the following content: 

  • Brand names
  • Logos
  • Products and services of a brand
  • Videos, photos, and visuals created by someone else
  • Written text, artwork, sound recordings
  • Another brand’s slogan or phrases

IP Rules for Popular Platforms

In addition to educating yourself on intellectual property rights and rules in general, each platform enforces their own IP rules.

Here are links to intellectual property policies for each of the major social media platforms:

 

Steps to Protect Your Digital Content

It is wise to register your trademarks and copyrights in the event you have to take legal action to protect your IP. In the sections that follow, we will provide a step-by-step guide for registering a trademark and a copyright, along with the cost involved. 

How to Register a Trademark

  1. Perform a Trademark Search. This will help you identify similar marks so you can ensure yours is sufficiently unique. 
  2. Complete a Trademark Application. Prepare your application and file it on USPTO’s Principal Register. You can also apply for registration on USPTO’s Supplemental Register although you will have less protection than you would have on the Principal Register. 
  3. Comply with General Rules. When applying for a trademark you must either use the mark in commerce or intend to use it in commerce in the future. 
  4. File Your Trademark Application. You can file your trademark application online using the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS). You can opt to file using TEAS Plus, which has more requirements than a standard application, however it is cheaper with a filing fee of $250. A TEAS Standard application costs $350, however it enables you to create a custom description of your goods and services. 
  5. Respond to Office Inquiries. Your application will be examined for a period up to 6 months. During this time, you may receive requests for supplemental information which you should respond to promptly. 
  6. After Publishing, Submit a Statement of Use. Once your application is approved, it will be published in the USPTO’s Official Gazette. If no opposition is filed, the USPTO will register your mark and issue a Notice of Allowance. Once you receive a Notice of Allowance, you must file a Statement of Use within six months and pay a $100 filing fee. 

How to Register a Copyright

  1. File Your Copyright Application. Complete an application, pay the $55 filing fee, and upload a digital copy of the work you want protected to the copyright office. 
  2. Receive a Confirmation. Once you have submitted your application, you will receive an email confirming the Copyright Office has received it. The processing time and examination period can take up to eight months. Your effective copyright date will be the date you submitted your completed application. Note: if you register by mail, you will not receive a confirmation email. 
  3. Respond to Office Questions. While examining your application, the US Copyright Office may ask questions or request supplemental information – respond promptly to any requests. 

 

The Future of Protecting Your Digital Content on Social Media

There has been a recent uptick in discussion about the effect of NFTs on intellectual property protection for influencers and content creators. NFTs or “nonfungible tokens” are essentially certificates of authenticity embedded in the blockchain, which makes them viable for intangible assets produced online like artwork, music, videos, and graphics (as well as other digital content). Content creators are still protected by copyright law whether an NFT is their own original work, or they choose to incorporate another creator’s copyrighted work. 

NFT copyright enforcement made the news when singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks blocked TikTok sensation 420Doggface208 from using the Fleetwood Mac song, “Dreams” in his viral skateboarding clip as part of an NFT sale. This serves as a reminder to always do your due diligence to ensure your creations do not infringe upon another’s copyright. You also want to ensure your online creations are protected by copyright or trademark law so others cannot steal your original works.

 

Further Reading on How to Protect Digital Content

This is part 2 of our IP for Creatives Online series on how to protect your digital content. Check out part 1 on IP for Podcasting here.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this article shall be construed as legal advice.

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The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property, an initiative of the Michelson 20MM Foundation, provides access to empowering IP education for budding inventors and entrepreneurs. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon Dr. Gary K. Michelson and Alya Michelson. To learn more, visit 20mm.org.