There was a confluence of stories today about managing IP in social media, conveniently providing a "teaching moment" around the parody Twitter account @bpglobalpr.
Venkat Balasubramani led off with a guest post on Eric Goldman's blog, reporting on a recent International Trademark Association bulletin which urged brand owners to take a measured approach to infringement of their trademarks on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, rather than immediately escalating to a confrontational cease and desist demand:1. Don't panic.
2. Be proactive (get familiar with the sites - "maintain some presence").
3. Don't go guns blazing against the social networking website - it's tough to hold the social networking site liable (Tony La Russa's lawsuit against Twitter is an example of this approach).
4. Use the tools and informal processes provided by the site.
5. Use traditional enforcement strategies.
Later in the morning, Ad Age profiled BP's hands-off reaction to the recent @bpglobalpr Twitter phenomenon. To its credit, and contrary to what one would expect from a multinational oil company, BP is not seeking to shut the account down, acknowledging that it provides a useful forum for people to vent their frustration over the Gulf oil spill. See steps 1 - 3, above. However, BP is not completely abandoning control over its IP. A comment by the BP spokesperson quoted in the story hints that BP asked that the profile picture associated with the account be changed so that it did not duplicate BP's logo. The revised profile picture forgoes BP's distinctive green and yellow color scheme and shows the logo dripping black oil, a subtle but effective signal that the account is not an official BP account. This brings the account closer to compliance with Twitter's guidelines for parody, commentary and fan accounts. See steps 4 and 5, above.
So, by taking a more enlightened approach to managing its trademark, BP is actually salvaging some PR goodwill from an operational disaster. A good lesson for brand owners everywhere.