Protecting your College’s Intellectual Property on Facebook: Learning from the Class ofGroups

The following is a guest post by Web Manager, Web Manager for Enrollment at Emerson College. Web Managerleads Web marketing and recruitment efforts for undergraduate and graduate admission. He also chairs the Social Media Group at Emerson, working with several departments to develop strategies and policies for the college’s social media presence. You can connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

If you are a staff member involved in your college’s Facebook presence, you are probably well aware of the “FacebookGate” fiasco with many Class ofgroups. As a result of Facebook’s sweeping approach to delete groups in question, colleges lost established communities even after some gained control of their Class ofgroups by becoming administrators and removing non-applicants.

Well, it’s happening again. Tim Nekritz noticed some suspicious trends in newly created Class ofgroups, with striking similarities in members, groups names, and descriptions. While the company or person behind these groups is not yet known, colleges can still take action.  My school, Emerson College, followed these simple steps and we got a rapid response from Facebook, resulting in the fakegroup being removed in less than two days.

Step 1: Know your trademark

Your college’s brand and logo are incredibly important and they’re probably trademarked. Get in touch with your legal department and find out exactly what your college holds as trademarks. Also, if you’ve developed new logos specifically for social media or web marketing strategies, get those under wraps with legal.  The fakegroup used Emerson College’s logo and name (both trademarked) so we had a basis to contact Facebook about infringement.

Step 2: Find your college’s trademark owner or authorized agent

In order to submit a report of “intellectual property infringement” to Facebook, you must be either your college’s trademark owner or authorized agent. Our legal department helped us with the specifics on this and Facebook has a helpful section as well.

Step 3: Report the claim of infringement to Facebook

Facebook has online forms for claiming infringement, outlined in their copyright claims section. In Emerson’s case, we submitted this form detailing the fakegroup’s infringing content. Within one day, we received the following response from Facebook:

“Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. We have removed or disabled access to the third-party or user-generated content you have reported to us for violating our Statement of Rights & Responsibilities. Please let us know if we can be of any further assistance.”

We checked the fakegroup, and sure enough, the Emerson College logo for the group was removed. We replied with gratitude but requested, “While you have removed the logo, which we appreciate - it does not address the fact that the group purports to be official and is in no way associated with Emerson College…” The next response from Facebook came by the end of the day:

“We have removed or disabled access to the offending third-party or user-generated content you have reported. Please let us know if we can be of any further assistance.”

By the following day, the fakegroup was deleted. Mission accomplished – but is it?

This single case may be a good outline for capturing the attention of Facebook and protecting your legal rights as a trademark owner, but it brings up a bigger issue for most colleges – what are the limits of “official” use of the college’s logo and brand? It is important to develop web or social media policies for staff, faculty, alumni and student use of your college’s trademarked items.  It is no longer enough to just create an official group first as some have suggested. When accepted students search in Facebook for “Your College Class of 2014” and see your familiar college logo, group membership, and activity, they don’t immediately know the creator. Make sure you are protecting your brand image – you’re working hard every day to promote it.

5 Responses to “Protecting your College’s Intellectual Property on Facebook: Learning from the Class ofGroups”

  1. Says:

    Excellent post! Thanks for the clarifications - great knowledge!

  2. Says:

    Definitely helpful information. I’m on it!

  3. Says:

    Good stuff! Just a point of clarification: Director of Web Communicationnoticed it first, then Brad posted a brief blog entry and then I expounded upon it. Like anything among the larger higher education community, it was a team effort!

  4. Says:

    Excellent headsup - I know several people to whom this would be most interesting indeed. Will share, thanks!

  5. Says:

    Companies are already offering up tools that connect key components of the student experience to their favored online playground, Facebook. While the social network originally focused on college students, complete with course listings, those functions have since been shed and third-party developers have picked up the slack. Some institutions have already embraced the strategy through systems designed in-house that fuse social networking functionality like “walls,” “friends” and photo galleries to more traditional alumni databases. Others are taking a wait-and-see approach, reluctant to develop a social network from scratch that might not attract active users in the first place, but also hesitant to embrace the wild, popular world of the social networks most students and many alumni already use.