March 28, 2017

The rise of user generated content (UGC) is turning traditional marketing and advertising on its head. UGC is any form of content (photos and videos specifically) created and shared by real people on social media. The way consumers make buying decisions is changing, and people are much more interested in what their friends are sharing than what brands are sharing. From the biggest brands in the world to the newest startups, user generated content is a vital part of authentic marketing efforts.

Today’s consumers are already great brand storytellers, and they do it without incentives. Marketers and advertisers are experimenting with UGC and uncovering exciting new ways to use such content. Before jumping into a user generated content campaign, you must consider how you will navigate UGC laws and regulations.


UGC Legal Considerations

Marketers are familiar with the rules regarding rights managed and royalty free images, but UGC presents a whole new type of content rights considerations. When does a brand need to request permission to use a individuals photo or video? Should a brand request rights from the photographer, the subject, or both? What is the best way for brands to ask for photo rights? What if there are other brand logos or multiple people in a photo?


The truth is the laws and regulations around UGC are not clearly defined. UGC images and videos fall under the standard copyright law, which means the photographer retains legal rights to their content. Therefore, legal teams across various industries that utilize user generated content in their marketing programs look at UGC laws and regulations differently. Some direct content marketers to ask for permission within the comments section of Instagram and will take a #YES response as consent to give the brand rights to use the photo or video (usually in only a limited capacity). Others say that using the brand’s name in a hashtag (like #Pepsi) is sufficient “implied consent” regardless of the poster’s intentions. Other legal teams require a signed legal agreement process for accessing rights to user photos and videos, especially if the media is going to be used outside of its platform of origin.


How To Prevent UGC Legal Issues

No matter which method of gaining rights you choose, you must remember to respect your fans and their content. We’ve found that appropriate use and thoughtful consideration will help you stay out of legal trouble when it comes to UGC laws and regulations.


Let’s looks at a few examples of brands that forgot to look through the lens of the consumer when planning out strategy use of UGC.


Virgin Mobile Australia

Virgin Mobile Australia launched a user generated content campaign called “Are you with us or not?” They quickly discovered that a simple marketing idea could snowball into a PR and legal nightmare. Virgin scoured the internet and grabbed images from Flickr to use in a print and poster campaign. Eventually, a 13-year-old girl from the U.S. realized her image was plastered on billboards and bus stops around Australia with the tagline, “Dump your pen friend.” Since Virgin Mobile never requested permission and used her photo in an inappropriate way, her family took legal action, which created a media and PR nightmare for the brand. Simply requesting to use this image, regardless of use would have kept them out of an unideal situation.



Lorna Jane

The next case we will examine is Lorna Jane. In this scenario, an organic brand ambassador for Lorna Jane posted a photo to social media of herself on top of a mountain wearing a Lorna Jane shirt. The brand took that Instagram image and created a T-Shirt out of it, without the consent of the owner. Making one of her usual trips to a store as a loyal customer, she discovers the shirt was selling for $59.95. The once loyal brand ambassador took Lorna Jane to court seeking $500,000 in compensation from the profit made from the shirt sales.



Obviously, a signed legal agreement relinquishing a user’s rights to content is the best way to prevent legal issues with UGC. However, the nature of social media makes it hard to connect with users to acquire rights this way. Instagram, for example, does not allow hyperlinking within comments, which makes it challenging to direct a user to your legal documentation. Luckily, ShareRoot has found a way to make this process easy for users and for brands to execute without the stress of involving legal counsel (see more on this below).


We’ve seen the entire spectrum from legal lenience around UGC hashtags to stringent documentation requirements. No matter how you proceed collecting rights to UGC, ensure you clearly document the process and that your legal team is aligned with your methods. At the end of the day, you must respect your fans content and use it responsibly.


At ShareRoot, we have the most legally secure UGC platform on the market, and it is the only platform that automates the legal agreement process for acquiring the full rights to user videos and photos. In fact, no other tool can curate and legally request rights to user generated videos. If the legal risk is hindering your UGC efforts, contact us today to learn how you can quickly legally access rights to user generated content.




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