Don’t assume consent for user-generated content

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and reports editor, DataIQ

It can be costly and time-consuming for marketers to create or commission authentic, relatable images and videos to publicise their products and services. For this reason, many turn to the social media pages of their users. This content is highly-prized because other customers are likely to view it as credible and trustworthy. Social proof is powerfully influential. Diners will always prefer to queue up for a full restaurant than to eat in an empty one. 

Brand advocate customers will often be happy for their favoured brand to republish or use their content. It could bring exposure and which social media junkie wouldn’t enjoy the dopamine-inducing spike in likes and shares generated? Some brands have created campaigns with the explicit intention of getting users to create and share snaps and videos with and about them. Think of a ubiquitous gaseous beverage, sexy white underwear and fruit-bearing entertainment and communication device.

But what if an image isn’t part of a publicity drive but the author just happens to mention the brand in an innocuous hashtag? A brand mustn’t assume it has carte blanche to use that image as it pleases. Footwear label Crocs put its foam resin-shod foot in it in 2015. The brand uploaded an image of a four-year-old child wearing its shoes to a gallery of user-generated contents (UGC) on its website without acknowledging or notifying the child’s mother who had taken the original. A reporter made the mother aware of the use of the image and Crocs subsequently sought her permission, but she chose not to give it. 

There are countless posts and articles online about the use cases and benefits to brands of employing user-generated content from social media, but few will mention the importance of consent, permission and copyright. The process of a brand requesting and obtaining permission from an individual to use their UGC is now so important that is even has a name - rights management.

Wyng, a digital and social media marketing platform, has a clear and comprehensive explanation. It states that there are three ways of obtaining permission from the authors of videos or images. First is implied consent - the brand assumes the author intended for the company to use content by dint of using its name in a hashtag in the caption. This can work if the brand creates a dedicated hashtag specifically for that purpose. 

The second is hashtag (reply) consent. Fashion brand Forever21 has done this by requesting that fans upload images with the hashtag #F21xMe. This shows that the fans understand they are sharing their image with the brand which can then repurpose it for future use. 

The third is checkbox consent, whereby the author has to take deliberate action when submitting a photo or video to grant the brand the legal right to reuse that content.

There is even a marketplace for user-generated content. Lobster allows visual content creators to connect their social media accounts or use a dedicated hashtag. Those pics and videos are placed in front of professionals who need them, with a little help from artificial intelligence and algorithmic engineering. If an image is used, the creator gets a fee and the marketplace takes a commission.

Whichever method is used, it is clear that brands will have to make a concerted effort to notify, obtain consent from, and even compensate when necessary, image and video authors when their work is republished. Image theft can be a costly business both in terms of the bottom line and reputation.

Related articles: Are you content with assumed consent?

Please note that blogs are the sole view of the author and that they are not neccesarily the view of IQ ddg Ltd and should not be interpreted as advice. Please read our full disclaimer

Research analyst and reports editor, DataIQ

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