March 19, 2013, 2:36 PM

The copyright perils of social media marketing

How a hot tune briefly got an e-retailer into hot water with Facebook.

Pop culture can be a great marketing tool. And that's especially true when you're marketing on social networks like Facebook and Twitter where the latest meme—that is the image, video or music track that everyone is passing on to their friends—can help your message go viral.

But the very popularity of that hot video or music track means its owners stand to profit from it. And they may not want others riding on their success and fame.

At 1SaleADay.com, a deal-a-day site, we learned that lesson recently when we promoted the launch of our app for Android mobile devices. To celebrate the occasion we posted a video of our employees performing the Harlem Shake alongside a life-size Android bot costume. The song accompanying the video, the Harlem Shake by the producer and recording artist known as Baauer, is currently No. 1 on Billboard's pop music charts.

What we didn't know was that Baauer is battling a copyright lawsuit over Harlem Shake. The suit, filed by Jayson Musson and Hector Delgado, claims Baauer used samples of their copyrighted songs without permission—a use that Baauer says is allowable under the fair use doctrine because the samplings were a parody of the original material.

Amid the legal dispute Facebook started automatically removing Harlem Shake videos, including ours and one from a cancer awareness charity, New York based nonprofit organization Teens Living with Cancer. The charity was forced to post a screenshot of their video with the caption "Yes, TLC joined the Harlem Shake fad! However copyright is keeping us from uploading the video."

Many others took to Twitter voicing dissent over Facebook flagging and removing their Harlem Shake videos for alleged copyright violations. Here is a sampling of complaints from March 10:

On March 11 we posted the Harlem Shake video to our 418,000+ fans on Facebook with the Baauer soundtrack playing in the background. Within seconds Facebook flagged and removed the video with the following Notification of Alleged Copyright Infringement:

We then uploaded the video without sound and had no further issue. As our call to action to generate comments, we asked readers to guess the muted music playing in the video. Most people guessed it was the Harlem Shake, considering the dance's distinct and eccentric upper body movement. By removing the sound we also avoided any potential copyright issues.

The lesson: Stay on the safe side of copyright claims by finding creative solutions for using memes to promote a product or service.

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