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The Ins and Outs of Copyright

Over the years SnapDragon has worked with countless businesses across the world removing thousands of listings that infringe their intellectual property (IP). An issue that has raised its ugly head recently – particularly on social media during the pandemic – is image theft or copyright misuse. For individuals, there has been a rise in catfishing. In other words, stealing the individuals’ photos and using them on a fake account. These accounts are often then used in ‘romance scams’ or as dating profiles.

Whether you are an individual or business there is always something that can be done to combat this issue. The good news is that copyright theft can be easy to enforce yourself. This is because copyright, unlike other forms of intellectual property is automatically granted. If you’ve come across someone misusing images of you or your brand you can quickly move into action to have them removed.

Put simply, copyright is the right that relates to creative materials such as text, photography, artistic works, music, film, and sound recordings. The owner of the copyright controls how their creative material is utilized and shared. For many brands, it’s a popular IP to enforce in order to protect their images, music, and words worldwide. Copyright protection is granted automatically, as soon as work has been created, in 179 countries as part of the Berne Convention. You also do not have to pay a fee or apply for protection. In the USA in 1998, Bill Clinton passed The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which also protects copyrighted work, more explanation of this can be viewed here.

Copyright infringement is when your work is copied or used in any form publicly without your consent. For brands, copyright protection is essential. Whether it’s a photo of your product or your logo, it’s an important brand asset. The majority of this misuse occurs on social media, online marketplaces, and websites. We frequently see brand’s official images being misused to sell ‘similar’ items. Essentially, it’s deliberately misleading consumers and can cause brand confusion and loss of reputation. The same applies to individuals. If you come across your work, whether it’s a video, image, text, or your music, being used without your consent then you are well within your rights to have it removed to prevent others from profiting from it.

Famous Faces Fighting Fakes

Another type of copyright misuse is fake celebrity endorsements. This is where scammers steal an image of a well-known ‘expert’ or ‘celebrity’ to endorse a fake product. Despite their image being used illegally, many unsuspecting members of the public have lost £1000s to these types of scams as often celebrities are viewed by the public as a trusted source. According to a report by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), financial expert and TV presenter, Martin Lewis and, founder of Virgin, Sir Richard Branson are the two celebrities whose names are most commonly used in bogus product endorsement scams.

Martin Lewis has long been fighting scammers who have used his image and name to promote a range of products. From PPI reclaims and mortgage brokers, to energy products and binary trading, his photo has been used illegally many times. These fake ads have appeared in places such as Facebook, MSN, and Google Ads.  As stated on his official Money Saving Expert website, he does not endorse any products and is fighting the scammers head-on with his tireless campaigning to create awareness and have these ads removed. More details of these fake ads can be seen here.

Susanna Reid, journalist and Good Morning Britain TV presenter, has also been the target of similar fake endorsement style ads. She discovered her image was being used in a ‘diet scam’. Reid was only alerted to the scam when she received a message on social media from a follower who was upset at not receiving her ‘Keto Diet Pills’. Other celebrities who have been targeted in fake endorsement scams include Holly Willoughby and Ed Sheeran.

If you have to fight copyright misuse then you need to prove your work was copied. To do so you also need to show that you own the copyright. A good tip for businesses is to ensure you log, save and keep a system to track all your creative works. This can involve a paper trail or proof of development, evidence of your research, rough sketches or diagrams. It’s also advised to use a watermark, you may be familiar with this being used on photographs to prevent misuse. If the photographs were taken by someone else (eg. A professional photographer) then keep all paperwork as proof that you have permission to use the images for your brand. If you have a website or online shop then this should be straightforward. The copyright symbol ©, with your name and the year of creation can be marked alongside your work. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has some handy information on how copyright protects your work in the UK.

If you come across anyone using your copyright then make contact in the first instance with the individual, page, or seller. Amicable resolution is always preferable to potentially expensive legal battles. Take a screenshot of the infringement, copy the URL (keep both for your records) and contact the individual or company privately. If this does not resolve the issue and the problem is on Facebook, Instagram, or other social media platform you can report the listing by clicking on the ‘3 dots’ that appear at the top of the post and choose the ‘report post’ option. Then, simply follow the steps provided for you onscreen.

Need more info? The websites listed below will provide all you need to remove copyright infringements from the respective sites.

Additionally, our sister consumer-facing scam information site BogusBuster also has a wealth of information about reporting on social media as well as online marketplaces such as Amazon and Alibaba here.

Of course, if you are struggling the SnapDragon team is always more than happy to help you. One of the many ways we have helped clients is by removing illicit listings that are using their official images or product videos on social media. Get in touch with our friendly team here.

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Kellie has a background in consumer protection working in Australia in marketing, PR and as a copywriter. She joined SnapDragon career as a brand analyst, and is using her passion to fight fakes to help raise awareness of the importance of online brand protection.