Stressed man

How a Meme Gets your Company in Trouble

By David MacLaren

We all do it. It’s so easy.

We see a funny meme, or a great video and we click share on our social media channels. Those with a sharp wit, and a creative flair, may grab that great photo and create their own meme. They share it with their friends, family and colleagues, because they want to raise a chuckle. That group, in turn, shares it with their networks – and so it spreads. It’s all a bit of harmless fun, right?

We’re seeing more and more photos and videos taken by non-professionals rise through the social media ranks. Endless funny cat videos and cute kid photos are making the rounds, gaining millions of views. It’s no wonder companies want to cash in on this viral success.

But sometimes companies take it too far and the little guys strike back. As is the case for Success Kid.  This week, Success Kid’s mom – Laney Marie Griner – is suing Jake’s Fireworks for using her son’s image without permission. Griner is claiming copyright infringement, and is asking for unspecified damages.

Of course, this isn’t the first time marketing pros have tried to use an unauthorized photo for financial gain. A couple of years ago, a freelance photographer was awarded $3.6 million in damages in a copyright infringement lawsuit against Buzzfeed Inc.  And there’s the famous Nescafe incident.  Russell Christoff, a model and actor, was awarded $15 million in damages for having his image used without his consent by Nescafe on coffee jars in 18 countries. It does, however, raise the question of how organizations can ensure they don’t cross the boundaries. Especially in today’s digital age where one wrong action is just a mouse click away.

Marketers are churning out massive amounts of content – via all kinds of channels, including the more spontaneous and unplanned social media. Messages have to be delivered fast, be relevant, and sometimes instinctively. However, an entire organization relies on the instincts of every individual to be appropriate. All it takes is for one marketer to blast out a fun picture with a quick quip on Facebook or twitter to get an entire organization in trouble. And, as we have seen, and will most probably continue to see, the viral vibe of user-generated success can sometimes be too much to handle.

Paramount for any organization to safeguard itself in this digital marketing age, is to lock down its digital assets and manage them in a controlled environment. Ensuring that everyone knows there is only one source, your digital asset management library, from which they can use photos, videos, images and graphics, and setting clear boundaries around the digital assets you have rights to, how they are to be used and by whom is the only way for any organization to stay out of trouble - and out of the courtroom.