In a recent panel at the Los Angeles Fashion Market, Ilse Metchek, the President of the California Fashion Association, moderated a discussion on protecting one’s brand name. The discussion was timely as the speakers contemplated how the age of social media has impacted brand protection. One analysis of the legal protections brands use is that they are so stringent that they may spark unnecessary legal battles.
One example of this is how an individual used the hashtag “#Stagecoach” and was subsequently emailed with a cease-and-desist letter outlining that she has no right to use the hashtag of the Stagecoach Festival.
The use of social media allows brands to market themselves to a larger audience, but brands also run the risk of putting their trademarks in danger. While it seems that brands have unlimited potential when it comes to exposure through a variety of social media platforms and influencers, it is necessary for them to closely watch mentions of their name and products online.
We have previously featured a piece on how companies have tried to protect their own hashtags on social media as intellectual property. The purpose of this would be to control the use of their branding. However, Nick Szelog highlighted that if companies have the ability to trademark tools like hashtags on social media, they limit the usefulness of the tool. Unfortunately, this limits the way users can express themselves on their own social media accounts.
An interesting analysis of the issue though is that this balance between marketing and protecting a brand on social media does not have to be solely based on strict legal rules. There is middle ground for social media users and companies to share the spotlight. For example, the Facebook page for Coca-Cola was initially created by a fan and gained over 107 million followers. Instead of taking legal action, the company cooperated with the fan to run the page, but with using the brand’s official handle.
This demonstrates that companies will need to seek a balance between merely managing the way their brand is used online and seeking legal reparations. Depending on who the company is engaging with in a legal battle, there could be negative publicity around the issue. Targeting an individual user on social media for the “improper” use of their brand name in a hashtag may produce a very different public response than an action against a fast fashion company that is infringing on their design trademarks.