Some Suggestions About Protecting Your Brand Against New Forms of Online Infringements

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Protecting your brand from new forms of online challenges has become  increasingly complex. The Cornell eClips program was kind enough to interview me on this subject. eClips, created by Cornell University, is the world’s largest and highest quality source of on-line video on leadership, entrepreneurship and business with more than 15,000 + clips.  Here is the first part of the interview. Future posts will contain the balance.


Q. What are some examples of new online challenges for IP Owners?

A. Social media gives everyone a microphone and puts consumers in charge.  In the past a brand owner tightly controlled the message. If Burger King wanted you to know about a new menu item, they delivered the message “their way.” Now we are all empowered through social media to tell the world the positives and negatives about a product.

Brand owners must confront and become comfortable, if they can, with a new reality they never experienced before–losing control of the message. And the message now comes from thousands of social media sites with new ones being born daily. Therefore, policing them all is impossible.

Q. People think about “viral” as a positive — getting products noticed broadly through the actions of others — but what is the flip side?  How can the viral nature of information flow hurt a company?

A. A viral attack can destroy the integrity of a brand and in some cases put it out of business. Once the attack goes viral there is no way a brand owner can stop or control the flow of negative information. Trying to personally attack the attacker simply adds fuel to the fire.

Here’s a recent example. Cooks Source Magazine copied a blog post and published it as an article without seeking the author’s permission. When the author discovered the infringement, she requested the magazine to publicly apologize and make $130 contribution to Columbia’s journalism school. The editor of the magazine responded last November as follows:

“But honestly Monica [referring to the author], the web is considered ‘public domain’ and you should be happy we just didn’t ‘lift’ your whole article and put someone else’s name on it!

It gets worse; the editor added:

We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me!

Once Monica posted the editor’s response on social media, there was a collective fury on almost site across the globe. Facebook had to take down the Cooks Source site because it received so many hits and the words expressed by many of the posters cannot be repeated here. Some also contacted Cooks Source advertisers and demanded they withdraw their support of the magazine. The last I heard the magazine was close to extinction. For more information about this incident, click here and here.

Interestingly, the copyright laws protect; but gaining protection requires time and expense. In contrast a social media reaction may be nearly instantaneous and sometime much more powerful.
Q. What are some strategies a brand owner can implement to deal with this new threat?

A. If the brand attack correctly identifies a problem, follow the three Cs: confirm, confess and correct. Social media allows you to easily respond to those who made the attack. Here are some approaches:

You can say: “one of our customers just posted a video complaining about x. Although we would have preferred that the customer had communicated with us first about the problem, we have investigated and made some changes that will benefit all.”

Or you could say “someone just posted a video although we’re not sure it was aimed at us we loved it and it inspired us to modify our policies.”

Also remember the best defense is a good offense. Use their marketing strategies proactively on iPhone and Android apps, on Twitter pages, social networking sites and YouTube. Suggestions include:

Set up an official company page on Facebook, a profile on LinkedIn and use your company name as a Twitter handle or user name. Register domain names for prospective products before you launch them. Free sites such as knowem and namechk will tell if the name is available. You may want to “unlock” your business page on Yelp. For more information, click here. Then you will be able to communicate with your customers, both privately and publicly and track how many people view your business page.

Your aim to have your consumer to embrace your brand; feel good about it and take ownership in it the way for Facebook users have done with that site. The more customer loyalty you create the more your customer base will support you if your brand is attacked.

Q. Can you give us some examples of creative enforcement of IP which does not cost the brand a lot of money?

A. There are a number of low cost, effective methods brand owners can take. First, set up a victory page. That’s a page that tells the world that you are serious about protecting your brand and shows how successful you have been in doing so. If counterfeiters and other like-minded thieves know you are vigorous in enforcing your IP rights, they may stay away. Victoria’s Secret had set up a victory page indicating its successful enforcement actions; and I understand it’s been an effective deterrent.

Next make use of the terms of service of the social media site, you know those terms that are appear on the bottom of the home page you never read. Every social media has developed terms and they may define a violation more broadly than the courts. For example, if you feel that you have been the victim of copyright infringement on Twitter, fill out its complaint form. You may find that Twitter will respond much faster than a court and with less expense.

Do you have other suggestions about how brand owners can respond to online infringement? Please share them below.

Want to view the Cornell eClips Collection?  The Cornell community may access the collection through (Net ID required) and others may view it through eClips’ publisher, Prendismo; please click here for more information. Prendismo offers institutional, educator and individual subscriptions. Also I will also be posting a min-version of the video of my interview shortly.






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