Intellectual property for social media influencers

88% of Hong Kong’s population uses social media, and this number is growing every minute. It’s no surprise that social media has become a lucrative business. Social Media Influencers (“Influencers”) or Key Opinion Leaders (“KOL”) are popular and powerful – they create strong bonds with their followers and have the ability to influence their perceptions of brands and therefore their behaviors of purchase. As a result, they are now an important marketing channel for many local and foreign brands. Influencers associate with these brands and generate revenue through endorsement or other forms of support through their profiles on Instagram, WeChat, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and other social networks.

Influencers and KOLs build and grow their reputation and market values ​​by creating original content, where multiple intellectual property rights may subsist, which must be managed properly to preserve and maximize their values. At the same time, influencers and KOLs may be unaware of the potential risk of infringing the intellectual property rights of others when creating their posts and articles, given that their content often relies on officially recognized photographs and videos. published by the main brands on the market that carry protectable intellectual property rights. .

Why should influencers and KOLs care about the Intellectual Property Rights (“IPR”) of themselves and others?

  1. Infringements of intellectual property rights on the Internet are unfortunately common. If the trademark and copyright are protected by registration, it is easier to enforce them in the event of a dispute, compared to unregistered rights.
  2. Registering intellectual property rights makes it clear to others that they are protected. This helps prevent plagiarism – if other influencers know the content is copyrighted, they won’t reproduce the content in the first place.
  3. Registered intellectual property rights lend more credibility to a social media account – followers and brands find content more trustworthy and risk-free.

What types of intellectual property should influencers register?

Copyright

Copyright protects the influencer’s original authored works: photographs, videos, posts, artwork, sound recordings, and other types of content. The social media influencer or KOL is the owner of the content they create and can freely distribute, make copies and commercially exploit the original works. Others must obtain permission or a license before using such copyrighted material, unless a legal exception, such as “fair use”, applies.

In Hong Kong, there is no need to register a copyrighted work, as the resulting copyright arises automatically from the creation of an original work. That said, from an enforcement perspective, the social media influencer may wish to register or deposit a copyrighted work if it has significant value if stolen by a third party.

Trademark

A trademark is a design, logo, phrase or any graphic representation that differentiates a brand from others in the market. Personal name or nickname of social media influencer or KOL is the brand name which should be the property protected by trademark registration to preserve and generate its value.

Website domain

The domain of the website by itself does not carry any intellectual property rights, but the domain name usually contains a word, name or phrase forming the brand name of the social media influencer or KOL which can be registered as a trademark.

Intellectual property policies of different social media platforms

The future of intellectual property protection on social media

To increase their visibility and reputation, social media influencers or KOLs often create different types of original content which is highly susceptible to legal risks. With the rapid evolution of the Internet, we anticipate that IP infringements on online social media platforms will increase and take on new and more sophisticated forms. Therefore, it is imperative for social media influencers and KOLs to be more careful and proactive in protecting their original works in the future. It should not be taken for granted that nothing bad has happened so far and that they will therefore continue to be safe in the future.

It is also important to respect the intellectual property rights of others and not to reproduce the content of others without prior permission.

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