Have you been asked to stop using a branded or trademarked hashtag?
Can you be liable when using a branded (and perhaps trademarked) hashtag on social media?
Think about it; isn’t this against everything social media stands for?
It All Started With a Hashtag Cease Command
A recent post in our Social Media Managers Facebook group read:
I was just told to delete a tweet we sent using (#)WorldCup because “that hashtag is considered copyrighted material and only FIFA is allowed to use it.”
So many questions!
- Have you ever been asked not to use a branded hashtag?
- Could there be legal action against you for using a certain hashtag?
- Who wouldn’t want you to talk about their product/service online?
That seems like an upside down world!
As you can imagine, this group of social media managers went to town on this topic. There were tons of opinions, articles swapped and experts sighted in this one thread following this post.
The biggest question seemed to be this one.
‘Why would someone want to trademark a hashtag and not let anyone else use it?’
Isn’t the purpose of social media to be… social?
In this article, we will explore the following
- Why would you want a hashtag to be trademarked?
- Can you indeed trademark a hashtag and if yes, how is it done?
- Should you trademark your hashtag moving forward?
- Can you be taken to court for using a trademarked hashtag?
It’s Social Media; Don’t You Want Your Hashtag To Be Shared?
First things first.
Hashtags are used in social media posts all day long.
Hashtags are used to discover new content on Twitter, to connect with interesting people on Instagram and to find industry-related pins on Pinterest. These are just a few ways hashtags are used!
The purpose of hashtags is to find and be found by like-minded individuals and businesses, to connect with a newly found audience and to start a conversation. In other words; hashtags help you to be social on social media!
Creating a unique, branded hashtag for your business, event or product is a smart way to reach more people.
Having your audience share not only your content but also your unique, branded hashtag allows you to reach a wider audience. Your ‘circle of friends’ gets bigger each time your hashtag is shared by others to their audience as their audience becomes… your audience.
So why in the case mentioned above, would FIFA not want you to use the (#)WorldCup hashtag?
Misguided In Protecting A Name
The same reason you would have for trademarking your business name, color, tagline, product, or scent (yes, you can trademark a scent) is the reason FIFA doesn’t want anyone using the WorldCup hashtag.
They are, so it seems, protecting the integrity of the name. Coupled with that, the WorldCup is a huge moneymaker for FIFA; think sponsors and endorsements.
FIFA wants to be in complete control of their (trademarked) name, and that includes their hashtag.
Let’s start by checking out that word ‘WorldCup’.
In this article, it is suggested that the word ‘World Cup’ itself is trademarked. If that’s true, you could get creative talking about the WorldCup without mentioning that specific word! If using the (#)WorldCup hashtag without context and permission might get you into hot water, as the Social Media Managers Facebook group member found out, using a more generic hashtag to describe the same thing would work i.e. #thebiggame #soccertournament #
While it may generate more views to use the hashtag #FIFAWorldCup in your tweets and Facebook posts, you would essentially be using FIFA’s protected mark without permission.
But really, shouldn’t FIFA want every single Twitter follower to use #WorldCup to spread the word?
Can You Trademark a Hashtag?
According to some sources we found, the answer is yes.
A hashtag can be trademarked.
As stated before, a trademarked hashtag is often an extension of a business trademark.
You can trademark a hashtag so long as you are providing a product or service to the general public associated with that hashtag. You can use a hashtag as a brand name or slogan for your product or service, in much the same way that any other name or phrase or combination of words can be used to brand a product or service.
How is it done?
You can trademark a hashtag in four easy steps, according to Xavier Morales, U.S. Trademark Attorney.
But… is it really that simple?
Keep reading an make sure to watch the embedded video below to find a different take on this!
Why Would You Want a Hashtag to Be Trademarked?
If you are a small fish in a big pond and don’t plan to be the next FIFA, it makes zero sense for you to trademark your hashtag(s).
Bigger brands who do have trademarked hashtags include Olympics (IOC) and the NFL.
Trademarking a hashtag is about trying to keep some sort of level of control on the online conversations happening about your brand. However, if you have the right tools and social support, you don’t need to ban anyone from using your hashtags; you can monitor the conversations yourself and be part of the conversations in real time!
From what we can tell, some big brands indeed encourage you (ask you!) to use their hashtag, instead of discouraging you.
Whether a big brand encourages or discourages the use of their branded hashtag most likely depends on their overall social media plan and their online customer service strategy as well as their social media and marketing budget for customer relations.
Can You Be Taken to Court For Using a Trademarked Hashtag?
One of our group members, Rob Anspach, responded to the original thread in our group with this post:
“Just spoke to Angela Langlotz about #WorldCup and other hashtags being off limits and she is actually going to make a video educating her followers on the legalities. Angela is a trademark attorney out of Dallas who helps protect intellectual property rights. When it comes to trademarks, copyrights and patents… Angela knows her stuff.”
We went looking for, and found Angela’s video!
This is a MUST WATCH video.
Angela minces no words as she calls FIFA uneducated on this topic and found that while FIFA filed a trademark request for the term ‘WorldCup’ in 1984, it was canceled in 1986!
Yes. They do not have a trademark for the word ‘WorldCup’ (in the USA).
So that ‘cease using our #WorldCup hashtag’ request?
“Stop the trademark bullying”
Well said, Angela!
Wise Last Words on Hashtag Trademarks
Some last wise words to consider.
As a brand owner, you should weigh the benefits of joining the Internet ‘conversation’ via the use of hashtag trademarks against the potential issues that can arise due to difficulties in policing how your hashtags are being used. If you decide that you do want to leverage the reach of a hashtag by trademarking it, you should ensure that the hashtag is not descriptive of the goods and services with which you intend to use it and you should also consider putting in place a system to review and manage how the hashtag trademark is being used.
Join the conversation!
- What’s your take on this?
- Has anyone ever told you not to use a trademarked or branded hashtag?
- What happened?
We’d love to know your experiences.
I am a Certified Social Media Manager, Strategist, International Keynote Speaker, Organic Specialist and Agile marketer! Blogging is my creative outlet. Running, hiking and skiing are how I recharge. You’ll recognize me on stage and online by my always present orange glasses, a nod to my Dutch heritage.