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When content goes viral, legal complications can arise

It is easier than ever to share words, songs and images, due in large part to digital content and social media.

For some people, “going viral” is the ultimate sign of success. But if you create something online that spreads so rapidly that it becomes the next viral sensation, you should know what — if anything — you can do to control use and protect ownership.

Licensing viral content

Memes are among the most common ways people use existing content to create something else. Typically, people use a photo or text image and alter it slightly to pass it on. The owner of the original content may or may not choose to take legal action against those who use their work without permission.

If you make money or other gains through a meme or video, legal action could be more likely. As such, business owners using memes and other protected images would be wise to examine licensing options.

However, some parties may not be concerned about people using their material in memes or other highly shareable content. This can be the case when the act of making something a meme serves a promotional purpose for the original work.

Claiming ownership of viral material

Today, content like dances, songs and video clips are among those to spread exceptionally fast thanks to sites like Twitter and TikTok. People can copy original content, alter it or not, and share it as their own. People often do not give credit to the creator, which can make it very difficult to claim ownership of material.

While giving credit to the creator can be more of an etiquette issue than a legal one, complications can and do arise, particularly when the work generates money or creates lucrative opportunities. And in some cases, creations like dance moves or gestures are not subject to legal protections.

As a business owner, it is important to recognize the limitations and permissions of social media sites. As this article discusses, try to keep a paper trail, whether you are creating content or using other people’s content. Platforms like Twitter and Instagram have tools like timestamps, but others like TikTok do not.

Further, if you do use someone else’s work, acknowledging the creator or inspiration behind your content can be an easy way to give credit and avoid claims of misuse.


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