Navigating Infringement on Social Media

Published: May 15, 2020

This article is part of a limited series of one-on-one interviews with INTA members who navigate the tricky balance between promoting and protecting brands on social media. Conducted by INTA’s Internet Committee, these targeted interviews focus on how members deal with trademark issues in the ever-expanding social media arena—including third-party use of brands on fan and “gripe” sites; hashtags, handles, and keywords—and discuss the best practices of brand owners and their wish lists. 

INTA Board Member and Vice President Zeeger Vink is the Intellectual Property Director at MF Brands Group, a Swiss company that owns several fashion brands including Lacoste, the largest in the portfolio, as well as Gant, Aigle, Tecnifibre, and The Kooples. Mr. Vink’s department is tasked with not only securing trademark protection for new pursuits, but also strengthening and enforcing the company’s existing worldwide portfolio of brands. As a fashion company, a social media presence is a large part of its marketing strategy, especially as the younger demographic makes up a significant portion of its customer base.

What types of intellectual property (IP) violations is your company currently confronting on social media and in the mobile app space? 
Like many companies in the fashion industry, MF Brands Group deals with a high volume of the unauthorized use of its brands and counterfeit products being offered through social media and in the mobile app space. Social media platforms and sites can provide a direct conduit between counterfeiters and the targeted audience, so these infringements are particularly concerning and must be addressed. However, it is a bit of a complex situation. Social media platforms serve as the intermediary to this counterfeit activity and trademark infringement. On the other hand, MF Brands Group is a business partner with some of them and leverages their platforms to promote its brands and content through advertising and targeted marketing activities.

Do you categorize your company’s experience with IP violations on social media and in the mobile app space to be significant, or average, as compared to other IP infringements your company suffers? 
Significant, although likely about average for a company in the fashion industry. We deal with a high volume of infringements and counterfeiters and have seen a huge increase in this problem over the past few years. We spend several hours a day dealing with these issues and work with outside vendors to identify instances of infringement and/or counterfeiting as they arise internationally and across different platforms.

Do you have best practices/recommendations to deal with misusers of your client’s/company’s brands on social media?
Because of the vast reach these social media platforms have with consumers, addressing infringement and counterfeit issues solely on a case-by-case basis through legal mechanisms—takedowns, for example—is not an effective strategy in the long term. Instead, brand holders need to work together to leverage commercial pressures on the social media companies and address infringement and counterfeit issues through the platforms.

As previously noted, social media companies are often our business partners and, ultimately, we have a choice with whom we do business. If brand owners as a whole demand a seat at the table with social media companies, we can discuss this issue upstream and facilitate the adoption of certain standards that make it more difficult for users to offer counterfeit products and/or post infringing content on the social media sites and apps. For example, such standards could promote seller transparency and more proactive approaches to counterfeit vetting. In the end, the interests of brands and social media are aligned, since they are all consumer driven. As social media increasingly realize that offering a clean and trustful platform is in their interest, a significant, positive change could be achieved.

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of items in the INTA Bulletin, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.

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