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Can You Copyright A Hashtag?

by • August 3, 2015 • Experts TalkComments Off on Can You Copyright A Hashtag?26031

A hashtag is a great way to keep control and organise a conversation. They are often used by brands to build communities around their products, services or events. But can a brand or event really claim the right on a specific hashtag? Can they stop other brands from using them to their own benefit? In fact, who owns #hashtags?

Also Read: The Science Behind The Perfect Hashtag

Working in advertising, I have often had to deal with brands wanting to create their own hashtags. And when those get popular, those same brands would always want to keep control over them, to own them basically. But can you do that? Can you legally challenge another brand from using your hashtags?

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Brands would love to think they are some kind of intellectual property. Internet users, on the other hand, would shout out and loud that hashtags are for everyone to use them. So who is right?

You Can Trademark A Hashtag, But…

Yes, you can indeed trademark a hashtag so long as you are in a position to demonstrate that you are providing a product or service to the general public that can be directly associated with that hashtag.

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But, a trademark is rather different from a copyright. Trademarking a hashtag will not prevent people from using it on social media. Other users will have the right to use your hashtag and a trademark will not allow you to legally challenge anyone using it. It will only hiply stop other companies and service providers within the same industry from using your hashtag to directly compete with you.

To face this, Twitter – the main platform where hashtags are being used –  has introduced it own Trademark Policy:

Using a company or business name, logo, or other trademark-protected materials in a manner that may mislead or confuse others with regard to its brand or business affiliation may be considered a trademark policy violation.

That includes hashtags obviously, but the truth is that Twitter often does not enforce this policy.

What Does This Really Mean For You?

In a few words, you cannot legally stop anyone on social media from using your hashtag, unless they are found to be using it to directly compete with your own products. Even in that case, you would have to prove that business is in the same industry as yours, and in a geographical location that obeys the same trademark laws as yours. Kind of hard to do, when you realise how global the Internet is, right?

In my opinion, it all comes down to being smart about it. Keep in mind these two pieces of (basic) advice:

  1. Don’t do to other brands what you would not want them to do to yours
  2. There is always someone bigger than you that could do to you, what you did to others

For the rest, stick to your common sense: will it really help my brand if I use this hashtag? Would my own followers understand it?

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There Is Still A Way To “Jump” On Cool Hashtags

After reading all this, you are still thinking that in some cases, it could be really good for your brand to be associated with a hashtag which is already out there. Well then, consider this: you can buy a hashtag search on Twitter,  thanks to keyword targeting.

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While this will bring you all the benefit of the specific hashtag – traffic, new customers, buzz, etc… – you will not have to include it into your tweets, hence making sure you are nor breaking any trademarking laws. Thank you Twitter.

 

What is your recent experience with hashtags? Have you ever had to deal with another brand trying to stop you from using a specific hashtag? Please share your experience in the comments.


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