For startups, social media serves an advertising channel and a direct line of communication with its existing and prospective customers. When used correctly, social media can have a positive impact. Successful social media campaigns can peek the interest of potential new customers and improve brand equity, among other things.

Startups should be aware of the potential legal issues that may arise from using social media. Legal issues are not unique to social media, but they may also become an issue at a faster speed due to social media’s “viral” nature. This means that startups should be acting proactively and mitigating risks.

Copyright infringement

Social media thrives on quality content such as photographs, music, and video. Startups looking to tap into trends or what is considered “cool,” especially startups with a limited quantity of original content, may elect to use content found on the internet. Sometimes, startups can use this media without facing any problems, but this is not always the case. Startups may be mistaken that content available online may be used or reproduced for free.

Original artistic content, in the United States and across the globe, is most often protected by copyright law. This means that it is unlawful to engage in the use, reproduction, and dissemination of the content for commercial purposes–including in social media campaigns–without obtaining the appropriate rights.

Startups should seek to retain counsel to help navigate copyright law’s intricate landscape. Startups may avoid significant issues and unnecessary legal fees by retaining counsel to help consult with potential legal issues and assist in obtaining all required licenses and clearances.


In today’s internet age, it’s not uncommon for social media accounts to be used to directly interact with users and comment on the competition. For example, when McDonald’s recently announced that it would be using never-frozen beef in some of its products, Wendy’s took to Twitter and asked the fast food giant “So you’ll still use frozen beef in MOST of your burgers in ALL of your restaurants?” – highlighting the fact that Wendy’s used never-frozen beef in all of its products.

The content distributed by a startup in its social media campaign may also be actionable if it injures a third party’s image or reputation. Typically, defamation will occur whenever a startup defames an individual or relatively small entity. This can occur simply by sharing defamatory statements, images, or content. The seemingly boundless audience that social media accounts can reach may only make things more problematic.

There are defenses to defamation claims. As a result, it is important that startups retain legal counsel when faced with such claims.

Privacy and Confidentiality

Privacy, especially on the internet, is very important. It has become a hot-button topic because users are now understanding how businesses collect, use, disclose, and sell information.

Social media campaigns, despite being social in nature, may still be subject to privacy laws and regulations. This may mean that startups collecting data–whether it be a name, email, or even IP addresses–may be required to comply with privacy laws. These laws govern not only how the startup collects and manages the data but also how it uses, stores, or distributes it. Failure to comply, even in the case of a tiny misstep, may result in legal and financial consequences.

Social media may play a critical part a startup’s business and marketing plans. A well thought out social media strategy can help maximize followers, increase customers, and increase interest in a startup. Even well-planned strategies may not be without hiccups. Whenever legal issues arise, a startup should alway seek commonsense counsel. Kalia Law P.C., is committed to providing you with simple, easy to understand answers to your complex business questions. Schedule your initial consultation by calling (650) 701-7617 today.

- Claire Kalia


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