Many businesses engage in social media as a means on establishing an online presence and building a direct line of communication with their client base. With 645,750,000 active registered users, Twitter is one of the main platforms that companies choose to get the word out about their business. So, do the standard intellectual property (IP) rules apply to Twitter? After all, how much trouble can you get into with 140 characters? Answer: A lot.

While many businesses are quite savvy in their use of social media, sometimes the most basic steps need a second thought.  You can even get into trouble based on how you set up a company or personal Twitter account and description before you send your first tweet. The law is still catching up in the social media arena, but here are our three top tips for tweeting:

  1. Don’t set up account names and descriptions that might be confused with other companies’ brands, products or services.

Twitter’s current policies ( state that where an account infringes on another parties’ registered trade mark, it may either remove that infringing account or transfer ownership of the account the registered owner of that trade mark. If you find that another user has registered an account that may be confused with your business, it is important to be aware that in order to trigger Twitter’s IP policies you must have a registered trade mark (unless someone is using an account for impersonation). So make sure that you have your company and products names registered as trade marks where possible.

  1. Don’t tweet anything that infringes someone else’s IP.

Materials that are attached to tweets are often the subject of copyright or another IP right. This may include photos or articles, so always ensure that you check the source of that material. While Twitter and most other forms of social media are about sharing content it is critical to ensure that you are authorised to share that content.  As an employer you should make sure you train the people who are responsible for taking care of your business’ official twitter account so they are aware of this issue.

  1. Do the Twitter accounts stay, or do they go?

Decide ahead of time who owns employee Twitter accounts that are used for business purposes and what is to happen to them if an employee leaves. It is prudent to have this arrangement documented in either the employee contract or social media policy (or both).  The pitfalls of failing to ensure such mechanisms are in place was highlighted by the well publicised dispute between US mobile phone company, Phonedog, and its former editor, Noah Kravitz, who was paid to promote the business via social media.  When Kravitz ceased his employment, he took his Twitter account and 17,000 followers with him. It got messy after that, and the parties ended up in costly litigation fighting over ownership of his Twitter followers.  It is also a good idea to ensure that employees are continually reminded of their social media obligations and responsibilities as employees to ensure that there is no confusion by either party.