Who comes to mind when I list the following character traits: lives in a dystopian metropolis, has a deceased parent, fights criminals, rides a motorcycle, has seemingly-superhero strength, is fearless, has dark hair, and–oh, by the way–his name is “Wayne.” More than that, you learn all these facts about Wayne by watching a trailer for a series about Wayne on YouTube, which informs you throughout that Wayne is a character “from the guys who wrote Deadpool,” a fictional superhero. Take a look for yourself:

It should probably come as no surprise that many people watching the trailer–myself included–thought this Wayne might be “Bruce Wayne,” the well-known secret identity of Batman. The comments to the official trailer demonstrate as much. Consider, for example, the “top comment” for the trailer:

The Bruce Wayne most consumers know is the wealthy orphan owner of Wayne Enterprises by day, crime-fighting superhero by night. YouTube’s Wayne shares many of the same traits (except, perhaps, the wealth), and one could certainly believe that the Wayne series might be an origin story for one of the most popular superheros of all time. Of course, by the end of the trailer, you get the impression that the Wayne you’re watching probably isn’t (though there’s no disclaimer):

In total there are over 7,200 comments for the trailer at the time of writing this post. Since the official trailer, YouTube has released additional teaser trailers for the series, each making it clearer that Wayne probably isn’t Batman. Yet, viewers still aren’t quite sure:

What I find interesting about these comments is that they are a readily-available (though perhaps unreliable) data set for proving, or disproving, the existence of customer confusion. Assume that DC Comics, the owner of the Batman mark and Bruce Wayne character (which does not appear to have been registered, but to which DC Comics could have common law rights and copyright protection) could sue YouTube for infringement or dilution. Arguably, the comments on the Wayne trailers show that consumers are drawing a connection between DC Comics and the Wayne series given the name, mood of the series, and common character traits with Batman. In this, YouTube may be free riding on Batman’s popularity. Depending on just how many comments reference Batman, the comments themselves could serve as strong quantitative data of confusion–akin to the kind of survey data usually used to prove that element of a trademark claim.

On the other hand, many of the comments for the series do not reference Batman or Bruce Wayne. Do non-references indicate a lack of confusion, or perhaps a confusion that is dispelled quickly after watching the trailers? This relates to the doctrine of “initial interest confusion,” which is temporary confusion dispelled before a sale or some other commercial harm, but still may be actionable because the party creating the confusion free rides on another’s mark to gain attention. Since widespread access to the Internet, initial interest confusion cases have increased tenfold, but courts disagree about the vitality of the rule. Regardless, that confusion appears to persist in this situation–as demonstrated by the comments for each new trailer–shows that the confusion here may be of the continuing and uncured variety on which many trademark claims are based.

Wayne fully releases on YouTube in January 2019. There do not appear to be any lawsuits pending at the moment. And there does not appear to be a “Wayne” trademark registration for the series. But if YouTube (or the series’ creators) file for one, DC Comics could oppose the registration–and has done so for similar marks in the past. We’ll keep you updated with any new developments! In the meantime, let us know what you think in a comment below.

One of the most common defenses to patent infringement is that the asserted patent is invalid. The reasons for invalidity regularly range from lack of utility, to incorrect inventorship, and even to fraud (as I’ve recently written about). Often, the defendant asserts that the patent is invalid for lack of novelty or non-obviousness–pointing to some piece of evidence that the defendant says conclusively shows that the invention was already in the public domain before the plaintiff even applied for the patent. That evidence is called invalidating “prior art.”

Prior art can spell the unexpected demise of an otherwise valid patent, and it comes in many forms. For several decades, published prior art (not to be confused with prior art in the form of prior uses or sales) consisted of already-existing patents (and applications), trade journals, drawings, articles, websites, standards, whitepapers, etc. But Congress expanded the scope of published prior art dramatically in passing the America Invents Act in 2012. Whereas before prior art consisted merely of “printed publications,” post-AIA, prior art also encompasses things that are “otherwise available to the public.”

The larger–and more modern–universe of possible published prior art is easy to imagine. For example, prior art references are no longer limited to traditional publications and documentary evidence. Instead, additional forms of multimedia come into play–which is fitting in today’s multimedia-packed times. Videos, movies, broadcasts, and recordings all now qualify as prior art, so long as they are available to the public.

But despite this expansion, litigants have not yet fully taken advantage of the change. There have been a few recent uses of video as prior art, such as the iconic iPhone keynote speech made by the late Steve Jobs demonstrating a technology described in an Apple patent. Ironically, in commenting on the “bounce-back” effect that was the subject of the patent, Steve Jobs stated, “boy have we patented it.” But Apple failed to patent it fast enough after the speech.

https://youtu.be/-3gw1XddJuc?t=29m7s

Samsung used clips from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to argue that Apple’s design patent for the shape of a tablet was invalidating prior art.

Apple really seems to be taking the brunt of video prior art challenges.

Just one week ago, a Federal district judge in the Northern District of Florida addressed–apparently for the first time–whether a YouTube video could constitute prior art. The court, in HVLPO2, LLC v. Oxygen Frog, LLC, 4:16-CV-336 (MW/CAS) (Dkt. No. 133), held that a YouTube video can constitute prior art and that YouTube videos are “sufficiently accessible to the public interested in the art.” Not exactly a groundbreaking finding to someone of my generation, who grew up with YouTube and the internet. Indeed, the USPTO’s own training guides (slide 15) specifically state that YouTube videos are a perfectly acceptable form of prior art. The USPTO has stated that videos qualified prior to the AIA, but there is conflicting authority.

The plaintiff in HVLPO2 had argued that the particular YouTube video in question was uploaded on a random account, so no one interested in the art would have found it. The court pushed back in eccentric fashion, stating:

It appears that Plaintiff is unfamiliar with how YouTube works. A familiar user would know that you don’t need to search for a particular channel to watch the videos uploaded on it. For example, if you want to watch a video of a cat skateboarding, you can search “cat skateboarding”; you don’t need to know that it might have been “CatLady83” who uploaded the video you end up watching.

The court held that the YouTube video in question appeared within the first 20 videos when using appropriate search terms on the site. “Surely, the effort involved in composing a basic search query and scrolling down the page a few times does not exceed the ‘reasonable diligence’ that the law expects of a hypothetical prior art subject.” I couldn’t agree more, and I recommend this fun cat skateboarding video:

But even though most YouTube videos are generally accessible, not all are available to the public. For example, YouTube videos may be “private” or “unlisted,” potentially removing them from the “otherwise available to the public” category or at least undermining the argument for their accessibility. Thus, as even the court in HVLPO2 noted, the defendant still has to prove the existence of public access to the video prior to the applicable date. This can be accomplished by proffering screenshots of the video in the browser and evidence of that video’s publication date (which is disclosed on the YouTube website and many other video sharing platforms).

Besides the above, there are few other examples of videos (online or otherwise) being used as prior art. This is probably due in part to the current difficulty of searching the vast amount of video and audio–as opposed to text, for example–available on the internet. But as computer learning gets better and better, I expect audiovisual prior art will play a bigger role in both patent prosecution and litigation, so long as that prior art is “otherwise available to the public.”

–James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

Recently violinists Rhett Price and Shiva Chaitoo got two very different lessons on the downside of posting performances on the Internet.

According to an article in The Boston Globe, a fan of Price alerted him to a video of Chaitoo’s playing. Turns out, Chaitoo was pulling a Milli Vanilli, fingering his violin over a sound-track of Price’s recordings. And he’d been doing it for at least a couple of years, and getting paid gigs from people who’ve seen the vids or his “live” performances.

Long story short: Price isn’t looking for anything more than for Chaitoo to stop his “tribute.”

What’s really interesting about the situation, though, is the copyright aspect of it, and the apparent lack of legal remedies available to Price.

According to Paul Litwin, a partner of Shames & Litwin entertainment lawyers, when Price posted his videos on YouTube and offered free downloads in exchange for email addresses, he essentially granted some use-rights. YouTube’s terms of service include “a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sub-licenseable and transferable license to use.”

Litwin says, “If you buy and download a song, you can pretend to play and sing along with it. By posting his music on YouTube, Rhett is allowing the YouTube community to use it. [Chaitoo] isn’t saying he’s Rhett, so from a legal standpoint, he does not appear to be infringing copyright laws.”

Really? The YouTube T&S notwithstanding, it seems to me that this would usually come under fair-use category. Since Chaitoo used it for a marketing tool (and probably also “performed” the tracks at his paid gigs), I think he hit some very sour copyright notes. There’s a world of difference between playing air-violin in your living room and what Chaitoo did.

As I’ve mentioned often before, I’m no lawyer (though I play one in the living room by reading aloud Steve Baird postings as if they were my own), so what do you knowledgeable folks think about both the situation and Lawyer Litwin’s assessment?

And one final factor to consider: Chaitoo lives and works in Trinidad and Tobago, which may complicate the copyright issue and Price’s available recourse.

– Jason Sprenger – President, Game Changer Communications

Imagine for a moment you’re back in the year 1963…the time of Mad Men, the beginning of Beatlemania, the year of the “I Have a Dream” speech.  Who’s the most trusted man in America?  You might be surprised that it wasn’t Martin Luther King Jr., or even the remarkably popular President John F. Kennedy.  It was Walter Cronkite, the legendary CBS news anchor.  And since Cronkite, who are the others deemed to be the most synonymous with trust among Americans?  None other than Tom Brokaw and Jon Stewart.

A while later, in my final semester of college, I did a honors capstone project on levels of trust in various media over time.  I tried to determine whether or not certain world events such as 9/11 could cause spikes in trust/favor among media, and whether those trends were unique to certain kinds of media.  My research produced results suggesting a strong correlation between higher levels of trust and visual media – specifically television.  It also indicated massive spikes of trust in broadcast media in times of national and global crisis – times when people were emotional and vulnerable, and needed reassurance and leadership.

These are just a couple of examples that suggest video has always had an incredible impact on individuals, and on our collective society.  We place a high level of trust in the people who talk to us and tell us how it really is on screen.  We celebrate the people who entertain and educate us through the movies, television and other visual arts and disciplines.  We remember vividly the experiences we’ve had and shared through visual media.  We treasure video memories of our families, because nothing quite takes you back in time like seeing and hearing scenes from the past.

Lately, through content marketing, organizations everywhere have begun to harness and leverage the power of video.  Consider these statistics (source: Hubspot and www.insivia.com):

  • When video is included in email, click-through rates increase 200-300%
  • Simply having video on a landing page can increase conversion by 80%
  • YouTube reports mobile video consumption increases 100% every year
  • After watching a video, 64% of users are more likely to buy a product online
  • Real estate listing using video receive 403% more inquiries than those without
  • One minute of video has been estimated to be equivalent to 1.8 million words
  • Enjoyment of video ads increases purchase intent by 97% and brand association by 139%

Clearly, video works.  So what do we do about it?  First, we find ways to integrate it into our operations at all levels.  Everyone from rank and file employees to executives to outside stakeholders is using and responding to video, so why not use the medium to our advantage?  Second, we get smart about the laws around ownership of video, the nuances of using and borrowing video and other items.  Lack of knowledge and certainty in these areas will hold us back from using video in the ways we could.  Third, we encourage open and frank discussions about visual communication in business and in society.  We owe it to ourselves to make sure that we’re continuing to use this still-evolving medium in the most efficient, ethical way we can.

With the changes in technology, media channels, concepts like virtual and augmented reality, etc., video will surely grow and evolve in the years to come.  It will only become a more central component of our lives, and our organizations.  It’s up to us to embrace this trend, because those of us who figure it out and do it well are bound to come out ahead.

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

“Remember these words. If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” – Johnnie Cochran

Johnnie Cochran, O. J. Simpson’s attorney for his murder trial, used that famous rhyme to drive home a message point. Would it have had the same impact if he had said “If it doesn’t fit then you must find my client to be not guilty?” I doubt it. Like him or not, Johnnie Cochran was a master communicator and he understood the power of rhymes.

Brand names and slogans that rhyme are much more memorable and enable easy spread of messaging. Dubble Bubble, Mello Yello, Laffy Taffy, Reese’s Pieces, Piggly Wiggly, YouTube, and many more brands use the rhyming technique. I think you would agree that once you hear a rhyming name it is relatively easy to remember it. A rhyming name can lead to fame.

Daniel T. Willingham, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, has studied numerous ways to improve education through application of cognitive science. In his article “What Will Improve a Student’s Memory?” he discusses the use of mnemonics such as rhyming as a means of improving a student’s retention of material. Think of mnemonics as “retention shortcuts.” A mnemonic such as rhyming may be particularly powerful because it adds acoustic encoding to your branding, which is already being interpreted in a visual way, thereby enhancing storage in your brain.

Mnemonics such as rhyming have been proven to enhance learning in multiple studies (here is one). And be honest, who has not used a rhyming mnemonic is the past? Quick question: what year did Columbus discover America? I bet some of you used the “in fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue” rhyming mnemonic to answer the question!

There is scientific evidence that provides some rationale as to why rhyming generates such positive effects. Matthew McGlone and Jessica Tofighbakhsh used rhyming proverbs such as “Birds of a feather flock together” to assess whether people considered aphorisms that rhyme to be more accurate than those that do not rhyme. The results concluded that “Extant rhyming aphorisms in their original form (e.g., “What sobriety conceals, alcohol reveals”) were judged to be more accurate than modified versions that did not preserve rhyme (“What sobriety conceals, alcohol unmasks”).” They concluded that the results “…suggest that rhyme, like repetition, affords statements an enhancement in processing fluency that can be misattributed to heightened conviction about their truthfulness.” In other words, rhyming generates processing fluency which can cause people to judge messaging as being more accurate.

How can you use this to your advantage? Obviously if you have the opportunity to rhyme you should consider it strongly. But don’t strive for rhymes just for the sake of rhymes. Consider using a rhyme to link a key benefit to your name, thereby generating name memorability and key benefit memorability at the same time.

As an example, consider the name StubHub. StubHub is an online marketplace owned by eBay, which provides services for buyers and sellers of tickets for sports, concerts, theater and other live entertainment events. If you are looking to buy or sell that “hard to find” ticket in a sold-out arena, chances are you can do it on StubHub. The StubHub name is a great demonstration of a powerful use of rhyming in branding, as the name helps communicate that the site is a central hub for people who want to buy or sell tickets.

7 – Eleven is another great example of a rhyming brand name with relevance. When the company launched, the name represented the hours of operation of the stores (now many of them are open 24 hours). The hours were a key marketing message for the brand at the time.

The Crunch ‘n Munch brand name combines the “crunching” benefit with the “munching” eating occasion to create a powerful, memorable name. The next time you have the munchies and want something crunchy, I guarantee you that Crunch ‘n Munch is going to be top of mind!

Lean Cuisine is a brand of frozen entreés which were introduced as low-fat, low-calorie versions of Stouffer’s products. The Lean Cuisine brand helped create the category of healthy frozen entreés and today it is a global powerhouse brand owned by Nestle. I can assure you that the rhyming name that exhibited a dual benefit of “Lean” (= healthier) and “Cuisine” (= great tasting) played a critical role in the success of this business.

Rhyming can enhance memorability, likeability and perceived truthfulness. However, it is not a panacea and should not be applied in every situation. In particular, “forced rhymes” can be silly or even painful, and can lead to negative feelings about your brand. But finding the right application of rhyming can be powerful!

Debbie Laskey, MBA

There is an often-overlooked aspect of marketing that can be considered a distant relative. Public relations, also referred to as PR, is this sometimes forgotten but very important component of marketing promotions. At its core, PR can be defined as managing a brand’s image and reputation, but it touches all aspects of a business including employees, shareholders, customers, investors, financial markets, politics, media, and business partners.

When executed well, PR can garner free publicity in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and on CNN. When executed poorly or a crisis happens, publicity or saying the wrong thing may cause an employee to be terminated – or even worse, a company can go out of business.

Talented PR professionals develop long-term relationships with reporters, and over time, reporters depend on marketing and PR pros to provide them with the information they need to write their articles.

Here are my Top 10 Branding Tips Using PR:

[1] Develop a competitive positioning statement and include with all printed collateral and online web pages, for example, fact sheets, brochures, annual reports, etc.

[2] Write articles about your company and how your product or service has solved problems for your customers – and submit to local, regional, and national publications and websites.

[3] Videotape experts from your company as they answer questions about your product or service and submit to TV and radio stations.

[4] Develop traditional press kits and online versions and include fact sheets, press releases, media alerts, printed or PDF versions of media coverage, etc.

[5] Develop a media list of appropriate reporters who cover your industry and reach out to share updates on a regular basis – don’t forget to update on a regular basis too.

[6] Create a schedule for regular press releases and distribute to your media list – and post on your online press room.

[7] Develop testimonials and case studies by interviewing satisfied customers and use these people as brand advocates/ambassadors – include these items in your press kits.

[8] Showcase your brand at industry trade shows and obtain keynote speaking engagements for your company experts – events are also great places to announce new products or services.

[9] Blogs have become an easy way for companies to share news and control how the information is presented, therefore, create a blog or several blogs – invite comments and monitor them quickly to further evolve compelling conversations.

[10] Since social media has changed the landscape for the dissemination of news, develop a social media marketing plan and integrate it with your overall marketing and PR outreach initiatives (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, and Pinterest).

What would you add to this list?

We truly live in an amazing time, where nearly any person with access to a computer can obtain a nearly infinite amount of knowledge, create and distribute ideas and works of art to the entire world. Also, there are lots of cat videos and angry rants.

YouTube is perhaps the most well-known and effective means of sharing content with the world. According to YouTube, there are more than 1 billion unique monthly users watching over 6 billion hours of video per month. Every minute, 100 hours are uploaded to YouTube.

In spite of the sheer size of competition, some videos just have that special something that causes them to go viral. Examples include David After Dentist, Charlie Bit My Finger!, and of course, the Honey Badger (slightly NSFW due to some occasional mild language):

In case you’ve never seen the video (and your employer blocks access to YouTube – smart for productivity, bad for morale…), the video consists of a clip from a nature documentary regarding the honey badger. The appeal of the video is the narrator, “Randall,” a character who is sarcastic, snarky, excitable  – basically, the complete opposite of what you would expect from a nature documentary narrator: calm demeanor, scientific knowledge, and a British accent.

Although the honey badger don’t care about a lot of things, be they bee stings or cobra venom, the creator of the video (Christopher Gordon) does care about at least one thing: trademark infringement. Gordon saw the success of the video and wisely sought to monetize it. He created an online store and registered his HONEY BADGER DON’T CARE mark in connection with clothing, audio books and computer game software, mugs, ornaments and plush dolls, and has a pending application to register the mark in connection with stickers and book series publications.

As with most internet sensations, Gordon isn’t the only person attempting to cash in on the popularity of the video. It’s easy to print a catch phrase on a search and, as a result, a lot of internet companies have been selling “Honey Badger Don’t Care” shirts and products. Gordon has relied on his trademark registrations to send out cease and desist letters and, just recently, filed a lawsuit against online retailers LOL Shirts and Tanga. Although the shirts are still viewable, the sites appear to have taken down the option to sell them.

Although Gordon appears to have had some success in enforcing his rights based upon the goods identified in his registrations, he may also be discovering the limits of his own rights. Gordon sent a cease and desist letter to the company Accoutrements, who sells the Honey Badger breath mints shown below:

 

Accoutrements responded late last month by filing a declaratory judgment action. Regardless of how many times viewers watch his YouTube videos, trademark rights are still based upon use. Trademark law recognizes that third-parties can use even identical trademarks so long as the goods or services are sufficiently unrelated (think Delta airlines, faucets, and dental insurance). In fact, a handful of third-parties were able to obtain federal registrations for HONEY BADGER-based trademarks for other goods, including: HONEY BADGER for wine and other alcoholic beverages (except beer), HONEY BADGER RACING for decals, HONEYBADGER for signal jammers, and HONEY BADGER for barbecue sauces. Sadly though, the lawyer who applied to register HONEY BADGER AT LAW abandoned his application to register the mark in connection with legal services.

Gordon no doubt feels like he “owns” the Honey Badger Don’t Care catchphrase because these companies and individuals are exploiting the popularity his ‘honey badger’ video. It seems likely that the only reason these companies have chosen the name “honey badger” is because of the widespread success of Gordon’s video. The video vaulted the honey badger into our common consciousness. However, just because a use of a mark may cause consumers to remember another mark used on different goods does not create a likelihood of confusion for trademark infringement purposes. Consequently, Gordon may have success with his lawsuit against the clothing retailers, but he may have more difficulty in the declaratory judgment action with the mint company. To be completely honest , I’m not sure either company is making enough money off these mints and t-shirts to justify anything other than an out-of-court settlement of the claims.

Before selling any products, business owners should conduct a basic knockout clearance search – even if they do not plan to register the mark. This is especially true if they have picked a name or mark based upon a popular internet video or meme. The honey badger lawsuits show that there is a market for licensed goods based at least in-part on popular internet videos. And where there’s a way to make money, there’s a chance that someone already has registered or common law trademark rights. It’s better to conduct some clearance and know any potential concerns before you invest time and money into a product. The last thing you want coming after you is a honey badger, especially a honey badger at law.

Last Sunday was “Music’s Biggest Night,” at least according to the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). I haven’t watched many Grammy Award shows, but the possibility of seeing Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr performing together was enough for me to tune in, at least for a few minutes. I wasn’t paying particularly close attention, but my ears perked up at the following segment:

(slightly better quality – and official version – available here)

If the video isn’t working for you, one of the presenters introduced the nominees for Best Pop Solo Performance as follows:

This year the Grammy’s wanted to reflect the way music lovers are making music videos of their own today so look closely because you just might see yourself in some of our nominee packages….

And then, instead of showing the actual music videos, the Grammy’s chose user-created tribute/cover videos for each of the songs. They appeared to professionally produced videos, not the kid in a basement with a guitar that you might be imagining. I am sure that the individuals who created the videos were pretty excited, but what about the artists and the record labels?

It is certainly possible that each of these derivative videos were officially licensed, or that NARAS went through all the appropriate legal steps to get the appropriate approvals from the artists and record labels (and the authors and performers of the derivative videos, too). I admit that this seems a bit unlikely.

While attempting to find the answer, it turns out that each of the nominated songs has its own connection with copyright law. One YouTube performer had his video parody of Lorde’s – Royals removed based on a DMCA notice (only for a social media campaign to have it reinstated). Katy Perry’s song Roar has been accused of ripping off her co-nominee Sara Bareilles and her song “Brave.” For what it’s worth, Ms. Bareilles doesn’t think so. Interestingly, Katy Perry gets two mentions thanks to the accusation that one of the videos for “Roar” stole the idea from Dillon Frances’ “Messages.” As for Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake, well, no accusations of infringement. Yet they did make the top 20 list of most pirated artists of 2013, coming in at #1 and #4 respectively.

Other than that though, I couldn’t find any word either way whether NARAS had obtained approvals from the party involved, or whether somebody had a “wouldn’t it be cool if” idea and forgot to run it by the legal department, because, for most people, why would you? They’re just a couple second clips, plus they’re already on YouTube, so it’s really nothing… (setting aside the fact that they will be broadcast to millions through television and live internet streaming throughout the world). I doubt any owners, artists, or performers are too concerned though, or that the record labels are scouring through YouTube to find these videos and take them down.

However they might have cared about whether, by playing clips from these user-created videos, NARAS was in some way legitimizing the uses and encouraging others to make similar videos (maybe my yet-to-be-released remake of Pitbull’s Timber could be featured next year?) . It’s an interesting photograph of the current state of how performers, owners, and consumers of music view the intersection of user-generated content and copyright law. Maybe it is symbolic of a greater trend toward acceptance of new technology, remix culture, and user-generated content. If I were YouTube, I’d keep a few people on hand to process DMCA requests, just in case.

 

Debbie Laskey, MBA

Have you ever spent hours working on a document for work? That’s a silly question because most of us who recognize Microsoft software and SlideShare have spent countless hours working on executive briefs, lengthy project reports, presentation decks, and much, much more.

Normally, we give our work product to our supervisors or give our presentation to our teams and then move on to the next project. But on that rare occasion when someone suggests, “Why don’t you put that document online,” there may be severe ramifications that must be considered.

For those who call the legal profession home, the theme of this post will come as no surprise, but for others who are not lawyers, paralegals, or other legal support staff, it’s hard to know where the line is drawn when it comes to the enforcement of online copyright infringement.

Allow me to share a recent incident. While I receive regular Google Alerts and Talkwalker Alerts via email for my name, every so often, I conduct a Google search featuring my full name. While my name is not as common as John or Jane Smith, odd as it may seem, there are still other Debbie Laskey’s in the world.

However, since I am a guest blogger for 10 blogs and have an extensive digital footprint with profiles on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, SlideShare, About.me, Quora, and others, this recent Google search yielded many pages of content that appropriately related to me. In fact, the first 10 pages of content correctly referred to me and my work.

But then something odd turned up in the Google search: There was an appearance of one of my presentations that I had posted to SlideShare (entitled Social Media Marketing 101), and it appeared on an unknown website. The entire document was mine – nothing had been changed. But my document was on someone else’s site, a site that promoted itself as “the premier online destination to start and grow small businesses.” The site further explained that it housed over 20 million documents. But, there had been no request for featuring my document. There had been no communication whatsoever from the site owner. And there was no link back to any of my websites.

This copyright infringement caused me great concern. I looked around the website for contact information and to see if there were any FAQs that addressed this issue. I found an email address and sent a request to immediately remove my document. A few days later, I received an email with a form to complete. “This form and reporting copyright infringement is to be used for purposes of requesting the removal of copyrighted content only because the person who posted it did not have the right to post the material.” Either the website posted my document or someone else submitted it – but in either case, I wanted it removed.

A few days later, I received another email indicating that my document had been removed from the website. But this entire experience has raised an important issue in our social era. How can we protect our digital assets? How can we protect our profile names, our digital designs and logos, our work product, etc.?

The reality is that, since there is so much information being added to the Internet every second, no one can really monitor every single appearance of our personal brands and corporate brands. Therefore, the best rule of thumb is, don’t place data online that would severely impact your brand or your business. Don’t place confidential data at risk. Don’t place logos or photos that are not approved for widespread use or specifically for media use. Don’t place videos on your site featuring your C-Suite leaders in interviews saying questionable things.

The Internet is a resource for doing business smarter and reaching existing and prospective customers, but don’t let it negatively impact your business by allowing your corporate brand assets to be infringed upon.

Debbie Laskey, MBA

Do you use Thanksgiving to thank your customers and, in the process, build your brand equity and awareness? If not, you’re missing a big opportunity.

With November in full swing, don’t make the mistake of focusing only on revenue from Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and after-Christmas sales. Instead, add a component to your marketing strategy that includes a nod to Thanksgiving, which will allow you to think about your customers and the overall customer experience you provide.

How often does your business communicate with your customers? Do you send weekly emails or monthly emails? Do you maintain a presence in social media? Do you update your Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram pages on a daily basis? Do you interact with your customers on social networks with contests or sweepstakes? Do you engage with your customers and invite them to share product or service reviews? Do you text your customers? Do you have a mobile-accessible website? And lastly, how do you target new customers? It goes without saying that the messages you create and distribute to prospects should not be the same as those you create and distribute to existing customers.

With communication as priority one during this time of year, Thanksgiving presents an opportunity to thank your customers for doing business with you. You can send an email, a text message, or even an old-fashioned letter or card through the US postal service. (Imagine the impression your company will create since few people send holiday cards via snail mail – you will definitely stand out.)

Whatever mode you choose, take advantage of the time of year. Take advantage of everything positive that this time of year represents: gratitude, renewed friendships and business opportunities, happy get-togethers, and new beginnings.

Let your customers know that you are grateful for their business, that you appreciate their feedback, and that you look forward to providing them with even more products or services in 2014. Your outreach will be remembered – and your business will reap the benefits. Be the brand that thanks – not ignores – its customers.

Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!

Image Credit: Stuart Miles from FreeDigitalPhotos.net.