Intellectual Property Hullabaloo: The Ethical Quagmire Of Online Content Creation & Your Brand

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What makes one social media account stronger than the next? Yes, numbers are indicative of reach, but most experts can attest to one underlying golden rule that can make or break even the most-thought out of strategies: Content. Good, original content.


Being social online entails operating in an open-source environment, a space where we're constantly creating and sharing content, usually free of charge… which makes plagiarism all the more easier. Plagiarism is more straightforward and subject to copyright laws when compared to intellectual property theft, which in addition to plagiarism also includes borrowing ideas and topics. Although both include copying someone else's work, one is more easily pinpointed then the other.

Here's the deal, a good social media manager or strategist does not always translate into a good content creator or developer. And that's fine, most social media agencies have realized this trend and have quickly adapted by commissioning content creators and freelance writers on many different topics to embody the brand's persona online. Over time, this model has enabled brands to position themselves as authorities in their field and has given their followers a reason to visit their social media platforms regularly, in some cases daily. Other brands have been lucky enough to hire passionate marketers who understand their target audiences and product enough create unique engaging content around it. And finally there are those who base their entire presence on drawing inspiration and content from a variety of sources or directly from competition.

This is where the discussion gets complex, does drawing constant inspiration though recycling ideas and recreating visuals make your idea original or does it constitute intellectual property theft? The lines can be blurry, but more often than not I would choose the latter. In my opinion, a well-rounded content creator is constantly aware of popular posts from competitors while also ensuring that their client's work isn't being echoed verbatim across the board. While you can't always prevent people from copying your work, you can help your brand stay ahead of the curve by continuing to innovate rather than imitate. Having said that here are 4 points to watch out when creating content for your brand:

  1. CREDIT Always give credit where credit is due, even if you're simply building on a similar topic, reference your inspiration. Giving the proper attribution can say a lot about your values and ethics; most notably that you're transparent. Accusations of plagiarism can be tainting and may at times lead to legal action brought against you and your company.
  2. RESEARCH Even if your idea is original, do the proper research to ensure that it hasn't been done before. Multiplicity gets suspicious and social media is awash with intellectual property theft accusations. Most content is searchable on Google, even images. You have no excuse not to do your homework.
  3. DIFFERENTIATE Don't do what everyone else is doing just because it seems to be working for them. Stick to the online identity as per your strategy. If you don't have a strategy, invest in one- it will really help you figure out who you are online and more importantly who you aren't.
  4. SOURCE Never dismiss an ethical concern or allegation regarding intellectual property theft just because there is no law to hold you accountable. Face it head on. If your idea is original then defend it, if not, admit where your inspiration came from and compensate the original owner for the work that you've appropriated.