Intellectual Property Attorney

Developing an Intellectual Property Enforcement Strategy (Part V of V) – Recapturing and Monetizing Fan-Generated Content

Intellectual property rights holders often view fan-generated content as an expensive threat to the integrity of the underlying brand. However, under the right conditions, rights holders can “recapture” fan-generated content – transforming this potential liability into an asset which can strengthen, expand and further monetize a brand’s intellectual property rights.

Branding the “Conversation”

One way to “recapture” fan-generated content is by providing fans with a brand-owned conversation and information platform. One venture which has done this effectively is the DALLAS COWBOYS® brand.

The Dallas Cowboys organization created its own DALLAS COWBOYS® fan forum which is hosted through the www.dallascowboys.com website. Such a forum provides fans with a space to “continue the conversation” about the brand. It also provides a ready-made audience for the Dallas Cowboys organization to reach fans and share news. Finally, such a forum allows the Dallas Cowboys organization to increase website traffic and monetize fan-generated content – most notably text comments left by fans – through paid advertisements displayed on this website.

While creating such platforms can be rewarding, such efforts can also pose challenges. For example, fans might post “deal breaker” content, and the fact that such content appears on the official brand website could be seen as form of endorsement. Brands with adolescent target demographics should exercise heightened caution in such recapture efforts because of both the vulnerability and the greater legal obligations which often attach to brand-interaction with minors. This means that brands will need to incur the expense of actively monitoring the fan-generated content posted on such platforms.

Branded Competitions / Sponsorships

Another way to “recapture” fan-generated content is through competitions and sponsorships. For example, a brand which is struggling to effectively enforce its rights against fan films (perhaps because of the volume of such films being created and shared online) might consider creating a fan film contest. Fans could then submit films for consideration in the contest in exchange for prizes. This could have a dual effect of both bringing overreaching fans “into the fold” by following contest rules and allowing the brand to aggressively pursue unauthorized films without being seen as heavy handed.

For example, the STAR WARS® brand has long had to navigate how to enforce fan-generated content. Little wonder then that the STAR WARS® brand created the “STAR WARS FAN FILM AWARDS CONTEST.” This contest allows aspiring filmmakers to submit their works for evaluation and possible prizes. This has the multi layered effect of:

  1. Moving fans outside the “grey area” where they might be considered infringers to non-infringers;
  2. Increasing web traffic and providing an additional source of content for the starwars.com website (as Bill Gates famously wrote, “content is king”); and
  3. Energizing some of the brand’s most ardent fans by providing a creative outlet for heightened brand-engagement.

Intellectual property rights holders should consult with competent counsel in structuring recapture efforts such as those discussed above. For example, structuring a contest can be a difficult intellectual property challenge (as illustrated by even a cursory review of the official rules for the 2016 STAR WARS FAN FILM AWARDS CONTEST).

Similarly, intellectual property rights holders need to avoid the potentially catastrophic situation where the brand is accused, rightly or wrongly, of infringing fan-generated content. For example, the last thing an author needs is to be in the final draft for a new book only to have a highly similar storyline submitted as part of a fan-fiction contest (and to have a question raised about whether the author “borrowed” from the fan work). Again, selecting the appropriate recapture programs and navigating the challenges such programs bring should be done with the help of competent counsel.

Grimes LLC has developed a reputation as a world leader in successfully helping clients build, protect and monetize intellectual property. If your company wants to balance intellectual property protection with fan engagement, call us today for a free consultation.

Click here to return to Article I in this series: “Balancing Fan-Engagement with Intellectual Property Protection.”

Click here to return to return to Article II in this series: “Articulating an Intellectual Property Enforcement Strategy.”

Click here to return to return to Article III in this series: “Exercising Prudence in Intellectual Property Enforcement.”

Click here to return to return to Article IV in this series: “Avoiding the Perception of Being ‘Heavy Handed.’”

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