It’s an issue we discuss often and is becoming more prevalent as increased social media use blurs the line between manufacturer-promoted advertising and independent consumer opinions. The discussion investigates when consumer-generated content may be imputed to a manufacturer and best practices to remain in compliance with FDA regulations.
As user-generated content explodes over the Internet, intellectual property disputes over posting or uploading such content without the owner’s consent continue to escalate. As we touched on in a recent post, social media platforms, hosting websites or other online service providers (OSPs) may be entrapped in these disputes based on the infringing actions of users of these OSPs. In such a situation, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) provides a safe harbor provision to the OSP known as the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act (OCILLA.) This provision, found at 17 U.S.C. § 512(c), protects service providers from liability for “infringement of copyright by reason of the storage at the direction of a user of material that resides” on the provider’s system or network, if certain requirements are met.
Brand companies have come to view user-generated content as often one of the most effective and authentic ways to advertise their products or services. This is known as “user-generated content marketing.” For example, with the ubiquitous selfie, brand companies have discovered a rich supply of user-generated content. Consider a consumer who takes a selfie wearing a favorite pair of jeans, posts the photo on Instagram, and then tags the photo with #brandname. The jean company sees and likes the photo, re-posting it on the company website. Legal issues? If the consumer or user was hoping to get attention from the brand for the photo and opinions shared online, not at all. This is how many digital influencers get their start. But if the user was not seeking such attention? Then, problems can arise.