Pro-Active Marketers Spend Far Less On Legal Protection Of Brands Than Those Forced To React After Theft
This article is not intended to be a legal piece of work on the protection of your brand and its assets. There is no substitute for appointing a specialist Trademarks, or Intellectual Property protection lawyer if you want to be extremely comprehensive about the way you protect your brand.
In fact, professional legal help is not just a “nice-to-have” for any online business, it’s a “must-have”.
If you are pro-active in protecting your brand it won’t cost you very much at all. But if you are not careful about brand protection, and wait to react after thieves have looted your brand assets, it will cost you a fair bit of money. Better be safe than sorry.
At Solohacks Academy, fortunately, we had good advice right from the beginning, because we went to a specialist in copyrights, trademarks and IP, who focused on the particular problems of small businesses. Hope you too find the right, cost-efficient, empathetic legal help right at the start.
1. All About Copyrights, Trademarks, And Patents
There is a lot of jargon associated with brand protection, so it helps to know what the main concepts of protection are and how they differ from each other. Many starter solopreneurs get these concepts mixed up in their heads. You have to basically know about three kinds of brand and brand asset protection – including copyrights, trademarks and patents.
a. The General Lowdown on Copyrights
What exactly is copyright?
Copyrights are a kind of protection given to content creators – and artists. For any work of yours to be copyrighted, it has to contain a minimal amount of “creativity”. So, for example, if you have written an original article or ebook, sketched an image, or created an original video, you can claim the copyright of these works. In other words, copyright signifies your legal ownership of the work.
What can you copyright?
The kinds of items that are typically copyrighted are literary works, like short stories, poems, newspaper articles, blogs, or scripts for videos or films. You can also copyright any advertisements you have originally created. You can copyright images such as drawings, paintings, pictures, even technical drawings. You can copyright podcasts, audio recordings and videos. And you can also copyright apps, software or other tools.
But what you cannot copyright are facts, ideas, methods of doing some process, or systems of operation. This has to be understood.
What does copyright entitle you to do?
Obviously, as the legal owner of a piece of original work that is your copyright, you are entitled to make copies of it, translate it into other languages, create sequels of the work, distribute your work free, or charge for its exposure, display the work in the public domain, sell copies of your work, create a performance or event using your work, and so on.
Having the copyright of your work is rather the same, say, like owning a car. Nobody else can use it without your express permission given to them.
With copyright ownership, lawyers will tell you that you have both economic rights and moral rights. Economic rights are the ability to earn money in various ways using your created piece … and moral rights include the right to claim its ownership and the right to object if someone else tries to claim they are the owners of your work.
Does your copyright have a time limitation?
Technically, it is said that you hold the copyright of a work for at least 70 years after you have created it.
But, details like this vary from country to country, so you have to get good legal advice. Look for a copyright specialist lawyer who knows your country, and can also tell you what your rights will be internationally. We, solopreneurs, working in the borderless online world, have to know the implications of everything both at our country-level as well as the international-level.
Do you need to register a copyright?
Here’s the truth. You don’t exactly have to. A piece of work originally created by you is deemed to be yours as far as copyright laws go, without your having to register it. Of course, you need to have some supportive paperwork to show that you are the original creator, if ever you are challenged.
Even if you haven’t registered the copyright of your work, you can still put a copyright notice or statement on your work so people know you are its owner.
How do you correctly state your copyright?
Most people ask how exactly they should articulate their copyright notice on a piece of work. The right way to put a copyright notice on a work is to first use the symbol © (the letter C in a circle). Then, next to it state the year of first publication of the work. And finally, put in the name of the owner of the copyright. For example, a correct copyright notice would look like this: © 1996 John Smith.
Why get your copyright registered?
As with all things legal, if your work is truly precious to you, it’s always better to get the copyright registered, because that puts an official seal of your ownership on the work much more strongly and authoritatively. You will also have a public record of your copyright claim, in case of the need to file a suit against someone who infringes your rights.
Copyright registration can be simple. Your lawyer will normally have to fill out an application, pay the due fees, and submit a copy of your original work to the appropriate authority in your country. The process then follows its own procedure, as per the rules of your country. You will usually receive a letter eventually that confirms your copyright over the piece of work, and this letter will also confirm which official publication will carry a public notice of your registered copyright.
What is infringement of copyright?
Infringement happens when a person uses another person’s work without their permission, whether knowingly or even unknowingly. It’s a crime with a hefty monetary punishment. An example of this would be a video clip someone has created. If you incorporate it into your own video, which you post to YouTube, the owner of that original clip, holding its copyright, can sue you and get YouTube to take your video down. Apart from these costs, you also have to bear all the legal costs of both parties involved.
That’s why it always pays to be three-way cautious. Don’t use another person’s work if you can. If you must, get express permission or get a contract for usage done. Sometimes the owner of a copyright may allow “fair use of his work”, with due credits – in which case see what he means by “fair use” before you use his work.
You can never be too careful, so it’s best to cover all bases. Recently, I came across a case where an interviewee on a podcast fell out with the interviewer, and later, after participating in the interview, he claimed he never gave permission for the interview to be aired. Such things should have been protected against with a pre-interview contract agreement with the party to be interviewed, stating clearly that the interview is to be published in the public domain and the interviewee agrees to it.
How can you discover if someone has infringed your copyright?
There are excellent tools and services online for such spying and taking down. We’ll explain these later in this article.
b. All About Trademarks And Registered Trademarks
What is a trademark and how is it different from a copyright?
A trademark is usually given to the logo or name of a brand, or its sub-brands, used to distinguish a product in the marketplace. Your main brand could be your business. Your sub-brands could be the names of your products and services. In some cases, all of these may have their own logos.
A trademark can protect not only a brand name and its logo, but also its tagline, if you include it as part of the logo-set. Nowadays, with audio and video content also being produced, some “signature sounds” or “video title opening sequences” can also be trademarked. The general rule of thumb is that you must be using the trademarked item for “commercial business”, and it must be very distinctive to your business.
Your trademark, however, cannot be something generic. What we mean here is that the word “experience” is a common and generic word. You can’t trademark that. But if you coined your own phrase like “XPerienz” you could get that trademarked.
The difference between copyrights and trademarks is this. Creative elements of your work are usually copyrighted, whereas items related to your brand identity are usually trademarked.
Should you get a country-wise trademark or an international one?
Get yourself a good trademark specialist lawyer first. Get one that knows your country laws and well as international laws. If you do business only within your state, then it may be enough to file for a trademark in your geography. However, if you want international protection, we don’t have a single global international trademark system. Your lawyer must register your trademark in separate countries.
Here’s the kind of process he will use. He will do a search for all possible challenger trademarks to see that you will not be stepping on any toes. He then has to file for your trademark by filling out a form, paying the due fees, and including a high-resolution black-and-white image of your chosen trademark with the due authorities in your country. It’s important that your lawyer files for your trademark under the right “class” of trademarks as listed by the authorities.
What is the difference between a trademark and a registered trademark?
When the authorities receive your application and assign it an application number, you can at that stage start using the Trademark Symbol next to your chosen brand name – the Trademark Symbol usually consists of the letters ™ as a superscript. It then takes a while for the authorities to approve and allow your trademark to be classified as “registered”. At this point, you can change the Trademark Symbol next to your name and use the Registered Trademark Symbol instead which is the letter R in a circle, like this: MyBrand®.
Once you register a trademark, you get legal protection for that mark. No other business brand owner can use your mark without huge penalty, so long as he is in a line of business close to your business area. If he is in a totally different business area, which has nothing to do with yours (for example, you are in digital marketing and he is selling granite flooring), you can both have the same brand name trademarked, so long as you also indicate what you sell. For example, you may trademark “HORIZON Digital Marketing” while the other guy trademarks “HORIZON Granite Flooring”.
The authorities, thereafter, have no mechanism to be locating all infringers of your trademark. In all cases, the onus is on you to ferret out cases where your trademark is being misused. You have to monitor usage and look for people and companies either using or infringing your mark and take action.
The usual practice that lawyer’s use is to first write to the infringing party to stop the infringement. If they don’t get a good response, they usually send a “cease and desist” letter. If there’s still no response, then the legal route is usually taken.
When can someone use your trademark and get away with it?
I didn’t find out this till recently. It appears that if a competitor is diluting, or even comprehensively pinching your trademark, it has to be shown that he is using it in a commercial venture that overlaps your own business area. That’s a first rule. But if a writer were to write about your brands in an article and include references (both textual and visual) to your brand, he is not exactly infringing your trademark. You can object if he hasn’t used your trademark correctly and get him to correct the way it is represented. Best practices dictate also that he should give your business the credit for using your logos or trademarked items in his article.
Now here’s another one. If a cartoonist were to parody your trademarked item in his cartoon, (which is clearly a non-commercial usage), it’s apparently okay. So, it’s possible to protect your brand from misuse, but not from ridicule. Some marketers get all uptight about any criticism or satire, and may look to prove the cartoonist was being paid by a competitor to badmouth them. But they have to beware: when they give such publicity to themselves through court cases, the competitors usually win. They get gleeful because the trademark-holder marketer is getting into the news for all the wrong reasons.
What are the most common mistakes people make with trademarks?
The first mistake: marketers often assume that just because they were first to use a brand name they have better claim to get it trademarked. Only registration of a trademark gives the strongest hold on it, no matter how long you’ve been using the brand without protection.
The second mistake: marketers may confuse “incorporation of their business” with “trademarking their symbols of brand identity”. Business registration is usually with an entirely different authority than a trademarks authority. The two are not the same thing.
The third mistake: pinching a trademark is not the same as counterfeiting. In counterfeiting, someone makes his brand name marginally different from yours with a slightly different name, symbol or color-shade difference, with view to passing off as your product to a consumer in hurry. In effect, a counterfeiter does a clever replica of your design with a few critical changes that allow him to get away on technicalities. Remember, if you have a good lawyer you must try to nail the counterfeiter, because eventually, he does more damage to the interests of your brand wilfully, with a mischievous view to impersonation, to cut into your market share.
c. The When, Why And How Of Patenting
Remember, earlier we had said we cannot claim copyright on innovative ideas and processes? That’s because we have to patent these. But the important thing to remember about patenting is that you can’t patent abstract ideas. You have to demonstrate your idea as a prototype if you’re patenting an innovation. Or you have to deeply detail a process or system you want to patent. One other important thing is that you have to be able to convince the authorities that what you have ideated or innovated has genuine value for improving life – and the authorities have to agree on this.
There’s one more thing about patents that may sound a bit archaic – but a patent is also never given to things that are deemed immoral.
What is the money-making potential of a patent?
Not all inventors or ideators patent their ideas or processes or inventions for their own use. They, most often, plan on allowing others to use their ideas or innovative methods for a fee. The more expensive your idea is to produce, the more you have to rely on others wanting to get your permission to replicate your work. That’s the only way, both you and your licensees will make money, by proliferating the idea and scaling its demand and usage to bring its costs down.
When nothing in its world is really new, is an innovation truly something that can be patented by one person?
This is the moot question behind all patents. Unless the applier of a patent can show that he derived a totally new and never-seen-before process difference, or ingredients combination, in his idea or process or invention, it’s hard to establish that he has originated something worthy of being patented.
Most marketers in Knowledge Commerce seldom have any stuff to patent unless they are into some process-innovating tools that they sell online. Still, it’s important to know about patenting in the legal scheme of things.
2. Protection Of Your Content, Images, Audios, Videos, And Brand Real Estate
Petty thievery happens online so often that marketers have almost got inured to it. But is this a good attitude of casualness to take? Thieves have a way of knowing when a marketer is a lazy, uncaring sort. First, there will be one thief, then many, then hundreds. So unless you are ruthless, and seen to be ruthless, about any form of content theft, you will yourself invite more unwanted guests to your site’s front door to take what they can from you.
a. Protecting Your Content from Plagiarism
Plagiarism is when someone either pinches comprehensively, or in parts, from your content without due attribution to you as its owner. I would hazard a guess that it’s the most rampant type of theft online. We have so many tools that are supposed to be plagiarism checkers, but if they did their job, we wouldn’t have so many leaks in the system, would we?
Why is plagiarism so hard to check?
Plagiarism is a bugbear, because the rules of what constitutes plagiarism are very loose. The world of writers and artists believes that no one holds a copyright on ideas. All ideas belong in the public domain. But you only have the rights over the way you express those ideas originally. If someone, therefore were to pinch your ideas but express them a tad differently, you’d have a hard time proving they have robbed your work.
The Internet, if you’ve noticed, has a host of “article spinner tools” which profess to plagiarize just enough to get any copy of an original article designated as not an “exact copy” of someone else’s work. These tools even tell you, “We’ll change about 30% of the original article for you – just enough to pass muster with Copyscape (the copy sentry tool).”
What these spinners then do is to comb your content and replace many words with synonyms. Bingo! The copied article doesn’t sound like your original piece anymore (neither does it sound like any form of decent article … but who cares?) The plagiarist’s only objective is to get enough content on his website, no matter what kind of pulp his article spinner produces.
You know the article robber is not at all brand-conscious – but then you are! His pinching has made him feel he’s done his workload for the day of publishing the day’s two or three blog posts … but what of you, who are slogging to produce high quality and are very keen to preserve your brand? Should it be so easy to take someone else’s work, and just twist around for about 30% change, and run away with it?
At first I was chagrined by all this plagiarism, but then I learned to live with some of it that was not harming me, while protecting myself from the best I could where I felt it was imperative. Here are three tools I now use to make me feel relatively safe from plagiarists.
3 protection tools to use against those pesky plagiarists
Using Copyscape and the Copy Sentry Tool. It costs very little to get Copyscape’s Copy Sentry to work for you. Copyscape is the online world’s best known anti-plagiarism tool. But it often isn’t enough to put a Copyscape badge on your site to ward off determined plagiarists. You need a mechanism to monitor and get them to take down their plagiarized work.
The Copy Sentry from Copyscape does a good job of foraying the Internet for all content that is either a direct copy or a marginally changed copy. If you have the paid version of Copy Sentry, which hardly costs anything at all per month, you will get detailed emails to show which work where looks like a copy of yours. Thereafter you are in a position to take action.
You can write to the thief to bring down the article pronto, or you can get your lawyer to send a “cease and desist” letter. Most often these two techniques work, because these petty content thieves don’t fancy going to court over a few words of content. Many will send a contrite email back saying the copying is “inadvertent”. Future emails from Copy Sentry will show if they’ve brought down the work or not.
Using the Delay RSS Feeds Plugin.This plugin gives you two nifty benefits. As all blog writers know, the RSS feeds of their blogs show up the latest article published, as soon as it is published. Sometimes, even if you want to alter a sentence or two after it’s published, you can’t make that change in the RSS feed of the article that’s already gone out. So a plugin that can be set to create an RSS feed after a wait time of, say, 30 minutes or 1 hour after you hit “publish” on your post, gives you a bit of time to tweak the article before your RSS feed of the new article goes out.
But think of the second advantage. Most content plagiarists get your content at top speed by enabling their RSS feed readers to grab your RSS feed as soon as you’ve published an article. They then rush to get their article copy indexed before your own article gets indexed by Google, thus creating the impression that their version of the article was earlier than yours.
What does that make you look like? The thief looks like the original writer and you look like a plagiarist!
The Delay RSS Feed plugin, helps you publish and get your article indexed before the RSS feed goes out after a set delay period. It delays your plagiarist’s ability to pose as the earlier publisher of the piece.
Forget DRM Rights and get the WP PDF Stamper Plugin. When the idea of DRM (Digital Rights Management) first started as a way to protect your ebooks, it sounded like a great idea. That was until all kinds of tools appeared on the market claiming to be “DRM hackers”. So much for DRM.
People like me who write a lot of ebooks were wondering how to protect our ebooks (PDFs) from theft when a cute little plugin appeared called WP PDF Stamper Plugin. This was particularly good, because most PDF thefts are actually done by decent people with a lot of “friends”. One of them buys your ebook and then emails it out to all and sundry as a friendly gesture.
What the WP PDF Stamper Plugin does is that it takes the purchaser’s email and postal address at the time of buying, and then stanmps that on every page of the PDF under the guise of “licensing” the ebook to the purchaser. However, once a person’s email and postal addresses are on every page of a PDF, you can be sure he’ll never email it out to known or unknown “friends”.
See the image below of how the PDF will look after the stamping.
Image courtesy: Tips And Tricks HQ
b. Protecting Images, Audios And Videos
By far the easiest method of protecting your images, audio and video content is by a process called “Digital Watermarking”. The leading company in this business is Digimarc.
What are “watermarks” for protecting images, audio and video?
The dictionary defines watermarks as “a faint design made in some paper during manufacture that is visible when held against the light and typically identifies the maker.” In the online world of content theft, a watermark would be best described as “… a logo, text, or pattern that is intentionally superimposed onto another image. Its purpose is to make it more difficult for the original image to be copied or used without permission.”
Watermarks can be either of the faintly visible variety, or even the invisible variety. Marketers often debate on whether watermarks on images, audio or videos should be visible or invisible – they wonder which method deters thieves more? I would say, use both.
How do you watermark images?
Photo editing software like Photoshop usually allows you to apply a visible watermark (or an invisible Digimarc watermark) on your images. For the visible watermark, you can add a Photoshop layer with faint font-color and maybe apply your logo like a stamp on the image.
For the invisible Digimarc watermark, you may have to buy a package from Digimarc at a little over $100. It works by applying a small amount of “digital noise” to your image, and thus creates a pattern unique to your photo. This pattern is invisible to the human eye, but readable through software like Photoshop – so you can check if it’s your invisibly watermarked photo the thieves have taken.
How do you watermark audios and videos?
Again, you can include a message to say the sound or video file is your copyright. Here’s one way to lightly and visibly watermark videos, for example …
You can also watermark audios and videos in a way indiscernible and inaudible to the human eye or ear, but discernible to a watermark reader. Digimarc can introduce a slight audio or video distortion which the human eye or ear cannot catch, but you can then catch out thieves if you have the Digimarc identifiers.
c. Acquiring Your Brand Real Estate Online
You may not have thought of your brand’s real estate online as something to protect, but how important this can be will come to your notice when you face some unconquerable challenges.
For starters, try to house your site and blog on your own hosted space
Don’t be tempted to situate your site or blog on a free or exclusive platform, social channel or Web 2.0 space. What do we mean by that?
There are many places that allow you to host your website for free. There are places like Blogger.com or Typepad.com, or even Medium.com. There are social channels like Facebook or LinkedIn that can double up as your business space.
There are also exclusive platforms like Kajabi (which is attractive and expensive, because it has ready-built features your business may need to start off quickly).
But the problem with all these types of free or exclusive spaces is that you are dependent on their rules which could change frequently. And God forbid, if they should suddenly close shop, or sell off to another owner, we have no clue what may happen to your website, its contents, and look and feel. Better to be on your own hosted space for a small fee every month, where you are the owner of the space and you can decide the features you want, without requiring to use expensive feature you may not need for your site.
Also be careful about getting all your domain extensions
Although you will eventually use only one domain for your business (preferably .com), you should buy and park all extensions of your branded domains e.g. .net, .org, .info, .biz and so on. You should also get your preferred Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social account names. If your brand achieves good success, you can bet your competitors (or others who make a business out of domain-squatting) will scoop up all your domain’s extension options – and then try to sell it back to you for an arm and a leg.
3. A Few Other Extras You May Not Protect But You Should
Just before we come to the section where we detail how to protect your website as a whole, there’s one more area to cover that’s becoming really important – your brand’s social hashtags. This is new territory so you have to know the ins and outs and step in gingerly.
a. Protecting Your Branded Hashtag For Social Media
Every marketer who uses social media knows how valuable a branded hashtag can be if your brand is about to reach a level of high recognition. The hashtag you choose on social media adds not just brand status, but you can use it to reinforce your brand values too. As we deal with devices with small screen spaces like mobiles, think how a succinct brand hashtag can serve as a quasi brand-identity, if it’s cleverly crafted. Seen in this way, a branded hashtags are like shorthand for your brand on small screens.
Can a brand legally claim the right on a particular hashtag? Most brands may not want to hashtag just their brand name, they may like to hashtag their predominant brand ideas, or brand values as well – what they stand for. Can they then prevent competitive brands from using their hashtags? This brings us to the legal question of who really owns #hashtags.
Can you trademark a hashtag?
The answer to this question is, Yes. You can definitely trademark your hashtag. But you have to demonstrate that you are providing a product or service to the general public that can be directly associated with that hashtag. For instance, if the hashtag #consultingdifference were to be trademarked by an HR business, it would have to prove that it does indeed offer consulting services with a difference.
But, be warned on one count. By trademarking a hashtag you cannot prevent other people from using it on social media. (In fact, your objective should be that more people use it.) Trademarking a hashtag can stop other competitive companies and service providers, within your niche or industry, from using your hashtag in direct competition to you. For example, if your business is called XYZ, a competitor cannot use your hashtag #consultingdifference to say “See our #consultingdifference over XYZ.”
How does Twitter view this topic of trademarked hashtags?
Twitter is the original social channel where hashtags are most used. Their general trademarks policy governs hashtags also. They state that “… using a company or business name, logo, or other trademark-protected materials in a manner that may mislead or confuse others with regard to its brand or business affiliation may be considered a trademark policy violation”. The implication includes anything that is trademarked – including hashtags. But I am not sure if Twitter enforces – or can enforce – this very strictly.
What is the legal position on trademarking hashtags?
Information given by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) states that: “A mark comprising of or including the hash symbol (#) or the term ‘hashtag’ is registerable as a trademark of service only if it functions as an identifier of the source of the applicant’s goods or services.” Using this principle we have seen some very big brands trademark their hashtags.
Examples include #smilewithacoke and #cokecanpics registered by The Coca-Cola Company, #McDstories registered by McDonalds, and #makeitcount registered by Nike. Wyke Farms, the UK’s largest independent cheese producer, became the first brand in the country to successfully register a trademark for its #freecheesefriday social media campaign. They had to provide evidence that the mark had acquired “distinction through usage”. The arguments brands have to make to get a trademarked hashtag show how hard it could be. Besides, whatever your arguments, the authorities must have mind to agree with you.
What about trademarked hashtag infringements?
Now here’s another dilemma. If the use of the hashtag by someone, other than the trademark owner, suggests that he is creating confusion of his brand with that of the trademark owner, then it could be grounds for infringement. Proving this in courts is another story altogether. I am not sure I have heard of successful challenges to infringement of trademarked hashtags – yet.
The moral of the story on trademarked hashtags
Don’t try competing with very big brands to whom hashtag trademarking may have become a status symbol. Hashtags are there to make your content searchable on social media. There’s nothing to prevent you from using different clever hashtags for the timing of specific events to give your brand a boost. Beyond that, why throw good money at trademarking hashtags? What if you spent heavily on trademarking a hashtag like “#wearetops”, only to find another guy trademarking “wearetopperthantops”. What have you achieved?
b. About the DMCA For Knowledge Commerce Websites
I’m not sure if you’ve heard about the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act Services Ltd.), but if you haven’t you absolutely should read up every inch of their website. They are a firm that offers every kind of protection any website may need, from A-Z … covering all manner of brand assets on the website. Since most of us, Knowlege Commerce marketers, work off our websites which are the main repositories of all our brand assets, working with DMCA is a terrific option.
Despite the range of services they offer, their charges are small – starting at about $10 a month for protection and going up to $99 if you should need their help to take down a thief’s website.
I’ve given you a screenshot of their website below. Visit their site to see how many types of protection they give to the brand assets on your site, and how they also engage in monitoring and full takedown services if they find theft from your site. In fact, if your site sports their badge, they even offer to “do take-down free of charge”.
They even advise you on compliance issues, and maintain a record of your support cases, apart from having a vast and up-to-date knowledge database on brand protection.
At Solohacks Academy, we have found the DMCA service really inexpensive and yet very exhaustive. And we get no brownie points or affiliate fees for saying so.
c. Finally, Learn To Treat Your Brand As A Legal Asset
Marketers are often so pre-occupied with the marketing side of their brands that they forget to look long and hard at the legal side of their brands. As Eric Ziehlke writes: “Brands are often seriously under-valued by the organisations that own them.” There are some rigors to maintaining the value and safety of your brands that you should incorporate into your workflow.
Make an exhaustive list of all your brand assets so you can keep track of them
You’d be surprised how many items of value your “brand” owns when you actually take stock. What’s worse than theft of the items you know you have, is theft of items you didn’t care to know you have.
When you do your stock-taking make sure all your brand assets ownership is verified and you have no defunct brand assets on your rosters. Be particularly sure that any design agencies that have done work for you have transferred the rights to you. Make sure your brand assets are in compliance with the latest regulations for both your country and globally.
Make sure you know where you can make income from licensing your brand assets
If some of your protected brand assets aren’t working hard for you, it’s time to examine options for licensing them out to earn more. See if others could exploit your brand in certain markets where your reach is less. If you do encounter situations where you can license out your brand assets, make sure your legal firm vets the documents with a great deal of precision.
When working with partners or in JVs, guard against brand dilution or incoherence
The more you work single-handedly in your business, it’s easy for you to maintain consistency in the use of your brand and its assets. But the minute you let others work with you (as with social influencers, affiliates or JV partners), you have to maintain deliberate control over the way they are allowed to use your brand. Unless you have strict guidelines and a brand manual, it’s hard to enforce consistency or coherence.
Be wary of infringing others’ brand rights
It’s not just that partners may misuse your brand, they may also inadvertently step on the toes of another trademarked brand in their eagerness to promote yours. You will be hauled to court by that incensed other brand your partners have messed up with.
When they teach you car driving, you may have heard the instructor say “Be a defensive driver. Assume that everyone on the road could be a potential suicidee, and be wary they don’t fall on your car and land you in court.” I guess it’s the same thing with brand protection. Be wary of infringements on your brand. But be even more careful of you or your people inadvertently infringing on other brands’ rights. Business will be more successful if we all spend less time in courts than in the marketplace.
In Summary …
- Pro-active marketers spend far less on legal protection of brands than those forced to react after theft.
- Professional legal help is not just a “nice-to-have” for any online business, it’s a “must-have”. Get a lawyer with credentials in local and international laws.
- Get to know the fine differences between copyrights, trademarks and patents – and also the benefits of registration of these.
- Protection of your brand assets – content, images, audios, videos, and brand real estate – is just as important as the protection of your brand identity.
- Hashtags trademarking is the new baby in town. Learn what you can and cannot do with hashtags, and also what you should and should not do.
- For Knowledge Commerce Marketers, the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act Services Ltd.), is an absolute sentinel for total and inexpensive website protection. Check it out.
So What Are Your Thoughts? Do Share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
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