Now Reading
How to Protect and Own Your Online Content

How to Protect and Own Your Online Content

Emma Green

As creatives, your content is your baby. Figuratively, but nevertheless, it is.

When someone touches your baby without permission, things can get hairy.

That may surprise you if you think that all that has happened was finding out some of your pictures were posted to somebody else’s account.

However, this goes beyond the pictures. It’s your work, sometimes even a tiny window into your personal life that nobody was really expected to “borrow”.

Today we asked our member Rachel to share her story with us about her own experience:

“I have had a brand use my photo in a sponsored post on Instagram, and I have had brands share my photo on social media (Instagram, twitter, facebook) without giving me credit. As a blogger, I love to work with brands in a mutually beneficial way, for example, I tag my favourite brands when I use them in my Instagram photos so that they can share the photo if they wish to. “

 I didn’t create that post so they take my work- I think it’s only fair that they give credit where credit is due.

Her first response has always been to comment on the photo and ask why they haven’t tagged her, which is the best first step to take in these situations: “That way other people can see that the brand have been taking other people’s photos without permission. Then I mention on my social media accounts about what has happened so that my friends or followers can also leave a comment for the brand if they wish to.”

The vast majority of picture-reposter, whether it’s brands or other IG users, genuinely don’t realise they’re doing anything wrong, and will immediately apologise and rectify.

“I have had a few brands send me a personal message and free products afterwards as an apology – usually they say it was a technical error on their scheduler or a mistake and they usually tag everyone.”

If you find out that your content has been used without the right accreditation, commenting is always the first best step. If you want to add an extra layer of security, however, we recommend you taking a screen grab it will come in handy if you get blocked at a later step of the process by mistake, or as hard evidence.

“When this happens I do feel bad and like a ‘princess’ for making a fuss about it, but I do think that the person scheduling the content should be doing their job properly in the first place. Also, I wasn’t making the point so I could get free stuff- I was making it so that hopefully it won’t happen again in the future.”

Another way to go is to take things private before filing a copyright infringement, using the link here.

This is it’s a lengthy form, and you’ll need to include your address, but it won’t be shared anywhere. Overall it is a clunky process, so unless you find there have been a few instances of copyright infringement from the account, a private message may be the best way to go about it:

“I’m not sure if sending a private message to the brand would be a better way to go about it.” Rachel continues: But in the heat of the moment when I’m annoyed because I spotted my photo on someone else’s account that’s not my first instinct. I feel like a visible message would get the situation resolved quicker than an email that can be ignored.”

We do believe in creating more value for both brands and content creators alike.

We love hearing about the great relationships you foster. By not being transparent though, brands ultimately jeopardise their relationship with bloggers by proving to be unreliable, and at the end of the day losing potential ambassadors:

“It’s nice that they wanted to share my photo because it means that they like my content, but it does make me feel undervalued if they can’t even be bothered to tag me in the photo when they use it. “

We are looking to raise awareness by sharing Rachel story, and making sure episodes like these do not happen again.

They may not be majorly spoken about, but they are not isolated cases:

“The last time a brand posted my photo across three social media sites without any credit was 4 days ago and I still haven’t heard anything from them. I think it’s incredibly unprofessional and makes it unlikely that myself, or any of the blogger who know about the situation, would work with them in the future’.

Asking the lawyers

With so much online content out there, it’s hard to know who actually owns what you’re sharing. Emma Green, an IP lawyer at Bird & Bird, shares her top tips on how to protect your content from being reused.

In my day job as an IP lawyer, I get to work with businesses at the most exciting stage of their journey: pre-launch or during a phase of growth. I work with clients to help them make the most of their brand identity, future proof their business, get them investor ready and make sure sponsorship and collaboration agreements work in their favour. We also work together to make sure any IP issues or disputes are dealt with as quickly and cost efficiently so they can get on with running their business.

The other side to my job is co-leading the Wellness group at B&B – we work with a large number of ‘wellness clients’ and help them tackle their legal to-do list, providing mentoring and business advice and help clients to spot opportunities to help their business grow to its full potential.

Who owns our online content?

It all depends on who created the content. Online content, such as blog posts, newsletters and articles are all protected by copyright in the UK.

Copyright is an intellectual property right, which arises automatically in written work and also layout and arrangement of pages.

The copyright author is the person who creates the work and, as a general starting point, the copyright author will also be the exclusive owner of that content (meaning third parties need their consent to reproduce or edit the work). If you’ve commissioned someone to write your blog content for you, they will own copyright in that content – that means you need to make sure it’s assigned (transferred) over to you/your business so that you own it.

If you’ve worked on the content alongside someone else, you may be considered co-authors in which case you’ll need to agree with them before you let any third parties use or reproduce that content.

Who owns our social media content?

If we’re thinking about graphics and images this time, it’s the person who creates that content by physically taking the photo. These kind of works are also protected by copyright, in the same way as written works. Make sure you have an agreement with anyone who works for or with you to create image content that you will own the rights in those images (and get them to assign those rights to you if you can) or at the least that you’re licensed to use those images.

Take care to read the terms of any licence you accept

You might need to give credit to the copyright owner, be prohibited from editing or making other alterations to the original image, and you may not be the only one they licence to use the image.

How do we know how networks and websites will reuse our content?

If you’re working with a partner to promote your product or service, make sure there’s a clear agreement on whether or not they’re allowed to reuse your content and if so, on which platform, how they can use it and for how long. Also make sure that you’re clear about the need to credit either you, or the third party owners of any copyright content they want to reuse (and if you don’t own the content, that you’ve asked the person who does if it’s ok for it to be used in this way). Equally make sure you’re clear on how you can use or cross promote any third party brand (especially relevant for endorsement or collaboration deals).

See Also
How to Collaborate with Brands as a Beginner Creator

Aside from that, it’s just a case of monitoring the relevant platforms to keep a look out for unauthorised content and then taking good quality, dated screenshots of that work as evidence.

Is there anything we can do to protect our content?

Yes – for written website content, make sure you have a declaration of rights at the bottom of your web page – this can be as simple as © 2018, (you/your company name) – you can also put this in the source code of the content as part of the page header.

For image content you can insert this same acknowledgement in the bottom corner of the image and make sure you put credits in captions on social platforms.

For longer pieces, it’s sometimes worth actually making an innocuous error or identifiable trait in the text – we call this a ‘sleeper’.

Then if you find what you suspect to be a copy, you can check for the sleeper and, if it’s there, it’s a clear indication of direct copying. Artists, illustrators and graphic designs can often do something similar, or otherwise make sure files are password protected with ownership details in the file profile, before sending to third parties.

And just be upfront and honest about how you want, or don’t want, your content to be used.   

Should we have a privacy policy, and should that include our content rights?

Yes definitely, this is a really important part of any online platform. Privacy notices are essential for any consumer facing business with an online presence as visitors to a site need to be clear about how you will manage their data, will cookies be placed on their computer, what data do you collect from the site, how do you manage newsletters etc. Content rights can be a small paragraph at the top of the policy, explaining whether you own trade marks (and if so what) and who has ownership of the online content.

Someone reused my content without permission – what’s my first step?

Good housekeeping here is essential – you should keep good records about who created what content and when and who now owns that content. Keeping your offline content files dated and well-ordered will really help with this, and make sure you deal with questions over ownership of content when it’s being created – it’s easier to get an assignment when the relationship is ongoing rather than having to revisit several years after the content creation. This is important as it’s only the owner of the content who is able to stop infringing or copied works.

When you find something suspicious, get the evidence – take screenshots or print outs of the content you think is infringing, and make sure those copies are dated.

Try and work out how much has been copied – is it identical or is it only inspired by your work? It’s going to be more difficult to stop if the work has only used your content as inspiration. But it’s a value judgment, and you may want to take professional advice from an IP lawyer who works with copyright to assess your options.


For more from Emma, head to her profile on the Bird & Bird website.

Bird & Bird social: Twitter | Instagram

Scroll To Top