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Will that hashtag you’re about to use get you into legal trouble?

We’re all told to be hashtag heavy online, but could the hashtag you’re about to use going to end with a call to your lawyer?

social media hashtag

Marketers, #CheckYourHashtag so you’re not breaking the law

Anyone who’s trying to start a revolution, raise awareness about an issue or represent a business online knows the unifying power of a strategic hashtag.

Influential online tools that increase engagement, hashtags can get the whole world pitching into a single conversation.

But marketers beware: Sending out a tweet with the hashtag of a competitor’s trademark could mean legal trouble.

Let’s dissect this jargon a bit to understand exactly what not to do.

Different from a copyright and a patent, the definition of a trademark is “any word, name, symbol, or device which is used in trade with goods to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish them from the goods of others.” The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office received 455,017 trademark applications in 2014, with more expected in 2015.

Examples of trademarks include Nike’s “Just Do It”; McDonald’s “i’m lovin’ it”; and as of this year, the words “This Sick Beat” (thanks, Taylor Swift).

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Familiarize yourself before hashtagging

Nike’s swish logo and McDonald’s iconic Golden arches are also symbolic trademarks, but it’s the name and phrase trademarks that matter for the purpose of hashtag controversy. It’s important to note that trademark protection only exists within the realm of specific industries, so it’s not a problem that Delta Airlines and Delta Faucet coexist. There are just not enough words to go around and not run into copycat issues.

For those responsible for the social media presence of a brand, whether an employer or client: Familiarize yourself with the trademarks in your industry, know your competitors, and just don’t try to be clever.

Let’s be honest, the chances that you’ll unknowingly tweet a competing trademark are slim unless you’re poking fun. Then again, there are some obscure or just too general trademarks out there. Here are some tips to hashtag responsibly and stay out of trouble. Private citizens have no need to worry. Go wild and hashtag freely if you think #Whataburger is better than #BurgerKing.


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Written By

Staff Writer Larisa Manescu cringes at the question "Where are you from?" because it's a long story, but it's one she loves to share if you ask her. Her interests include storytelling, social justice and choreographed group dance classes.

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  1. Pingback: Fresh Instastats: How many #hashtags do you really need? - The American Genius

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