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How to get legal when managing online PR

Do you post, tweet or create online content as part of your communications role?  If so – beware.  You  could be exposing yourself to copyright, privacy, trade mark, consumer trading and libel law without realising it.

I invited two leading legal experts, Jo Sanders and Steve Kuncewicz, to speak on this subject at a recent CIPR Marcomms Group event.

And what surprised me most, was that once I’ve written a post or shared a link or picture on my client’s website, Facebook page or Twitter feed – it’s published. And as the author, the law holds me responsible for that content, so I can’t hide behind the same approval procedures used for traditional media content.

Here’s a summary of what they had to say. Read the full article here.

Check who owns what

Beware using a substantial part of copyright work without permission, unless it is fair dealing for criticism or review, news reporting or private study (which are unlikely to apply in a commercial context).

Is a retweet copyright material?

Just retweeting the link and making it obvious that you are doing so on Twitter’s platform is likely to be fine. But think before you copy any of its content or add a comment to it – you don’t want to be criticised for passing it off as your own work.

Can you post positive comment to balance out negative?

Jo said lots of people do post anonymously. But they leave an online footprint so can be tracked down. The man in the street might get away with it, but an organisation who is seen to be acting covertly, can come under fire.

Using celebrities to tweet

Creating any promotional copy, even if it’s made to look like it came from a consumer, is still promotional and Jo recommends using a hashtag such as #ad or #spon to show that the tweet is part of a marketing campaign.

What PR material is exempt from the Committee Advertising Practice (CAP)?

Press releases, editorial content and non-paid-for appearances in search results.

Using photographs of celebrities for online content

The law will consider factors including who took the photograph (and if they have approved its publication), does the celebrity look like they were aware they were being photographed (was it public or private) and does it look like they are overtly endorsing the company without having given permission?

Going viral?

Passing yourself off as a consumer (as in Sony’s ‘All I Want for Christmas is a PSP’ viral campaign) was exposed as the product of marketeers rather than genuine consumers and lost credibility.

Who is responsible for others who post on your website?

You have primary liability for posts that appear on your own website or forum. Steve recommends you have a quick take-down policy, especially if someone posts copyright or libelous material on your site.

What if your campaign is hijacked?

Jo advised five possible actions – ignore it, post in response, shut down the site or blog, complain to the host site or involve the police.

Protecting your company from internal leaks

To minimise the damage of staff leaking confidential information, identify what is confidential and make that known to employees. An exception is if the information leaked is seen by the courts to be in the public interest, (as in the Lion Laboratories case).


•    Don’t assume the client will take responsibility for online PR content. The author is responsible.
•    Get insurance and liability cover (especially if you are  PR agency or freelancer).
•    Ensure any endorsements and testimonials used for marketing messages are real and verifiable and that includes messages on a company website and social media.
•    Have procedures for approval of online material.
•    Get clearance for online PR campaigns at planning stage.
•    Get written consent for endorsement.
•    If you buy a license to use copyright material, check what platforms you can use it on.
•    Have a take-down policy that can be actioned quickly.

Jo Sanders is a Partner in the Media and Information Practice at Harbottle & Lewis who specialises in all aspects of reputation management for corporate and individual clients.

Steve Kuncewicz is Head Of Legal at and author of ‘Inside Out – Legal Issues in Communication and Reputation in the Connected World’ and ‘Legal issues of web 2.0 and social media’ – @stevekuncewicz.

Added after this post was first written: The ASA has since produced new guidance for working with infuencers and it is very helpful in interpreting new CAP legislation.

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