By Jan Zimmerman, Deborah Ng

As part of your social media marketing efforts, you need to make sure that you are protecting your brand. Two important aspects to protecting your brand online are copyright protection and trademark protection.

Copyrighting your material

Copyright protects creative work in any medium — text, photos, graphics, audio, video, multimedia, software — from being used by others without permission or payment. Your work becomes your intellectual property as soon as you create it in a fixed form. The rules for copyright are simple: Protect your own work and don’t use other people’s work without permission.

Whenever you sign an agreement with a subcontractor, especially a photographer, to create original work for your website, social media pages, or other advertising venue, read the contract to determine who will own the copyright on the work they create. In most cases, you can stipulate that their efforts constitute a work-for-hire arrangement, so the copyright belongs to you. (Photographers may give you only a limited license to use their creative work in one application.)

Your employee agreement should clearly state that your company retains ownership of any intellectual property that employees create for you. This area gets interesting if employees post things about your company on their personal social media accounts. It’s another reason, if you needed one, for separating personal and business accounts on social media.

Put a copyright notice on your website. The standard format includes the word copyright or copr or the symbol © followed by the year, name of copyright holder, and, usually, the phrase All Rights Reserved. You can easily add copyright information in the footer so that it appears on every page. Here’s an example you can incorporate into your website, blog, or other uniquely created material:

© 2012 Watermelon Mountain Web Marketing. All rights reserved.

This common-law copyright notice informs other people that the material is copyrighted and gives you basic protections. For more protection, file officially at www.copyright.gov. Basic online submissions start at only $35. Copyright is usually easy enough to file yourself, but call the copyright office or your attorney if you have questions.

You can’t copyright ideas or titles.

Trademarking your brand names

Trademarks (for goods) or service marks (for services) give you the exclusive right to use a particular name or logotype within specific commercial categories. You can trademark your own name, if you want, and you must acknowledge the trademarks and service marks of others. The first time you use a trademarked name (including your own) in text on your site, follow it with the superscript ® for a registered mark or ™ for a pending mark that hasn’t yet been issued. Provide a notice of trademark ownership somewhere on your sites.

Trademark rights apply online. For instance, only the trademark owner has the legal right to register a domain name with that trademark. The same constraint applies to celebrity names. If you think a competitor is infringing one of your trademarks, see your intellectual property (IP) or business attorney.

Fees for online filing start at $275 depending on which form you must file. Filing a trademark is a bit more complicated than filing a copyright application. For directions, see the trademark section of the United States Patent and Trademark Office site. Check the trademark database for availability of the trademark within your class of goods or services, and then follow the prompts. Though you can legally submit a trademark application yourself, you might want to call an IP attorney for help.

Filing a patent is much more difficult, and much more expensive, than filing a trademark. Be sure to consult an IP attorney for patent filings.