Digital Millennium Copyright Act and Pinterest

When consumers pin your product/logo on their pinboards, have they violated yourpinterest icon copyright?  Pinterest continues to grow in popularity and small businesses having been on the positive receiving end because it gives them to showcase their company in a creative and visually appealing way.  For instance, if a jewelry boutique wants to wants to promote its brand, it can post wedding material, fashion events highlight jewelry, or photos of celebrities with jewelry that other users can “pin” on their own boards.

Back in 2012, the Washington Post reported that Pinterest was getting pushback from users who removed pinboards because they were concerned that a copyright owner would sue them for copyright infringement.[1] People who upload posts to the site agree that they are the owners of the post or have permission from the owners to post them. This was a problem for Pinterest because technically, posting some else’s content without giving credit to the original owner is risking copyright infringement. Pinterest encourages users to post from the original source and provide appropriate credit.

Now, there is an option for users to opt-out from their material being pinned – however this somewhat defeats the purpose of Pinterest of having people discover and share the things they love. If you want content removed from Pinterest based on alleged infringement of your copyrights, you can fill out a Copyright Infringement Notification Form.[2]

According to Caron Beesley from the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are five steps that one can take to protect their intellectual property (IP) rights.[3] Beesley explains that social media is a necessary evil because on one hand you obtain the easy exposure, but you nonetheless run the risk of social media users misrepresenting your brand or company. For instance, when a social media user reproduces a copyrighted blog, photograph, or video without your knowledge. Below is what Beesley suggests:

  • What’s at Stake? First, understand how IP comes into play on social media sites.

    Trademarks – involves company brand or product names from being used by another company in a similar line of business. For instance, your trademark can appear on your Facebook URL. Reserve your company name on these sites as soon as possible in order to prevent violations.

    Copyright – a creator of an original work or image automatically owns the right to that work once it is published in print or posted to a website. Unless that work is registered with the United States copyright office, you cannot sue for infringement in federal court.

  • Monitor your IP on Social Web. Consider whether and how you are going to police how people are talking about your brand and using your content online. One way to do this is to use Google Alerts[4] and/or other social media monitoring tools such as Hootsuite[5] and TweetDeck[6]. This allows you to monitor key terms and brand names.
  • Is it infringement? Exercise caution when determining what constitutes an IP infringement and what doesn’t. For instance, if someone is using or mentioning your trademark name for informational purposes, like in a status update, this may be considered a fair use of your brand name. If you believe someone is using your copyrighted material with authorization, be moderate in your approach because possibly, the violator does not know they are infringing on your rights.
  • Decide if it’s in your Best Interest to Act. It may not always be the best option to pursue action. For example, the abusing site/user might actually help your brand through affiliation or indirect promotion of your product. Weigh the pros and cons before pursing further action; consider if there would be backlash that you cannot control and if you even have the time and resources to dedicate to this effort.
  • When it’s Time to Act – Pursue Your Options. 
    • Contact the violator directly because most bloggers are not aware that they have infringed upon your rights. Also, take a screen shot of the offending content for reference.
    • Become familiar with Terms of Service of Social Media Sites. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Youtube publish their terms of service and complaint procedures on the websites.
    • File a DMCA Infringement Notice with search engines to block the offending website from search results.
    • Puruse legal action. Consult qualified legal counsel because neither the U.S. Copyright Office nor the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office act as a law-enforcing agency. They just maintain registrations and records.

Visit www.niu.edu/Springboard for more information or inquiries.

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/pinterest-addresses-copyright-concerns/2012/03/15/gIQAijAFES_story.html
[2] https://www.pinterest.com/about/copyright/dmca-pin/
[3] Caron Beesley, 5 Tips for Protecting your Business Intellectual Property in a Social Media World. U.S. Small Business Administration. 6 Aug 2015. <https://www.sba.gov/blogs/5-tips-protecting-your-business-intellectual-property-social-media-world&gt;.
[4] For more information, see https://www.google.com/alerts
[5] For more information, see https://hootsuite.com/
[6] For more information, see https://about.twitter.com/products/tweetdeck

Avoid Being Personally Liable

This post was written by Justine Bugaoisan, a Springboard Graduate Assistant and is based on information provided by Brie A. Crawford, Esquire, a Patent Attorney registered to practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. 

This post is for informational purposes only and not for the intention of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.

Business owners could do themselves a big favor by taking minimal steps.[1]

The main objective of an LLC, corporation etc. is to protect the business’ owner’s personal assets in the event a lawsuit is filed against the business.  It is a strong trend among business owners that after filing paperwork for this business entity formation, nothing further needs to be done to avoid personal liability.[2] It is important to follow through with an attorney to prepare Operating Agreements, Shareholder’s Agreements, etc.  In Illinois and many states, these “corporate formalities” are necessary to protect the owner’s personal assets in litigation.  A business owner will need to “prove” to the courts and a plaintiff that the plaintiff cannot “pierce the corporate veil” and obtain personal assets that were separate from the business.

Corporate formalities, which prove the rituals of the business are a bona fide corporation[3], include annual shareholder and board director meetings, even if it is just written communication.  Meetings should be held more often and documented by a corporate secretary with meeting minutes that reflect what was discussed.[4]  The substance of a corporate meeting may not be as significant as the actual meeting itself.[5] Meetings act like a city council board where policies and decisions are discussed, voted on, and approved.  In addition, a corporate record book should be kept that includes corporate actions, capital structure issues, and other relevant corporation matters.  This may be tedious and counterproductive in the middle of trying to keep a business running. However, these steps can pay back in dividends, as courts will contemplate whether there were corporate meetings or corporate formalities in determining whether an owner is personally liable.

Consider Gallagher v. Renconco Builders, Inc. 91 Ill. App. 3d 999, 1006 (1st Dist. 1980) where the owners did not observe corporate formalities, corporate resolutions, meetings, or able to produce any corporate books. The court held the shareholder personally liable for fraud and awarded the plaintiff all damages, repairs, and liquidated damages.

Consult a lawyer or ensure you have the documentation necessary to keep your records updated in order to avoid a big loss.  This may be burdensome to keep up with but the cost can be relatively low and save many headaches and money in litigation in the future.

[1] The information is for informational purposes only and not for the intention of providing legal advice.  You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.

[2] Based on information by Brie A. Crawford, Esquire. Patent Attorney registered to Practice Before the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

[3] 7 Charles Murdock, Illinois Practice Series, Business Organizations § 8:17 (2d ed. 2014).

[4] Reda, Ciprian, Magnone LLC.  Illinois Incorporations. 2011.  Web. 25 Aug. 2014 <http://www.illinois-attorney.com/practice-areas/illinois-corporate-and-business-transactional-law/illinois-incorporations/&gt;

[5] 7 Charles Murdock, Illinois Practice Series, Business Organizations § 8:17 (2d ed. 2014).