This post needs to start with a disclaimer. When I was at the library we had slips to give the customers saying that we are not responsible for providing legal or medical advice. That goes for this post as well.
This purpose of this is to start discussion & get you thinking about intellectual property & your online presence. What I have learned has been through experience & it taught me some valuable lessons. I mentioned them on Chris Brogan’s post about how valuable your personal brand is & the big risk for corporate trust agents. As a result I was asked to go into more detail.
Again I have no legal training, but can we agree that words need definitions & a contract is nothing more than sets of words. But those words need definitions, right? The interpretations of contracts is fine when both sides agree. But if they don’t then it’s a legal question.
So as knowledge workers, we need to consider the definition of Intellectual Property in regard to the content we’re creating & how it could be interconnected with a corporate brand.
Intellectual property (IP) is a legal field that refers to creations of the mind such as musical, literary, and artistic works; inventions; and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce, including copyrights, trademarks, patents, and related rights. Under intellectual property law, the holder of one of these abstract properties has certain exclusive rights to the creative work, commercial symbol, or invention by which it is covered.
Now, here are some things to think about when you’re blogging or creating user generated content. And this is all meant to generate more questions …and maybe we can find some legal expertise to weigh in?
- What does your company view as intellectual property when you’re working for them?
- Was there an amendment that explains that anything created by you while working for them is theirs? Does this include:
- blog posts about their products or brand? (possibly on your blog?)
- tutorials & user-generated content that you create (on your 3rd party site?)
- your ideas & potential new business opportunities for you for a certain period of time after you leave employment?
On the flip side if you’re a company having your contractors & evangelists to create user generated content & blog about your product. I will suggest that the best path is to show appreciation to these people who are loyal & uphold your brand (even if you’re paying them). I don’t understand the point of the corporate legal department quibbling about ownership of intellectual property that is supporting your company & customers? As pointed out in the book Groundswell it’s all about relationships. And when it comes to the relationship between contractors/employees & the brand/company I think that user generated content & personal blogging are going to start challenging traditional norms.
Some quick suggestions:
- agreeing in advance of employment or contracting is much easier – I specifically state that all of the content on my blog is mine
- both the company & employee should know & understand
- the bounds of the blogging policy
- acceptable interactions in social networks
- whether participating is acceptable on work time (reading blogs, microblogging, participating in social networks, etc)
- your blog’s domain name is not owned by you – it’s like a phone number which you pay an annual fee to maintain it. (I tend to think of my blog URL as my property, but it’s not).
I’d love to hear your ideas & comments. And it would be great if you can bring the legal aspect to this. The topic of intellectual property is going to become more relevant as we continue to produce content online. What do you think?