Content creators on subscription-based platforms must seek legal advice to protect their intellectual property rights

November 22, 2021
Rosie Burbidge


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Subscription-based platforms such as OnlyFans and Substack have been partially driven by a surge in pandemic-related redundancies.

Many content creators have entered the market looking to supplement or replace their income and have found these new subscription models provide a low barrier to entry.

From an intellectual property perspective, these sites ensure creators maintain rights over their content, with a soap star recently explaining that OnlyFans has allowed her to “take back some power and control over my images, what I create, where I put them and put them onto the platform”.

It’s big business too. The financial rewards for creators can be significant, with celebrities such as Lottie Moss stating she can make upwards of $100,000 a month via OnlyFans. In fact, members of the public who aren’t established celebrities are becoming infamous in their own right, with some earning over £1 million in less than a year.

But in this disruptive content arena, how can subscription-based platform creators protect their intellectual property rights?

gunnercooke Intellectual Property Partner Rosie Burbidge, takes a closer look at potential legal issues for those monetising their content via online subscription platforms:

“New technology always poses challenges when it comes to protecting intellectual property rights.

“Many social media platforms have developed a business model which enables them to harness user content without the boundaries traditional media must follow.

“Other platforms have adopted a subscription approach that allows content creators to maintain greater financial and creative control over their intellectual property rights. These platforms enable creators to earn a substantial commission from the content accessed via the site.

“However, those publishing content on subscription sites are not immune from all IP issues. For example, content that is meant to be exclusive to subscribers may be copied and shared elsewhere online. If this happens without the creators permission, it will be IP infringement and if it occurs with their permission, it will breach the relevant T&Cs.

“Any IP infringement is the responsibility of the relevant creator. For example, OnlyFans T&Cs state that is ‘not liable to you if your Content is copied, distributed, reposted elsewhere or its copyright is infringed by another User or any third party’.

“Therefore it is up to a content creator themselves to identify copyright breaches and bring action against offenders.

“This creates additional complexity, costs, and risks that only the highest-earning content creators could likely shoulder.

“A creator can make it easier to file a takedown notice in relation to key content by: (i) applying to register key copyright works at the US copyright office, (ii) applying to register their name or logo at the UK intellectual property office (assuming they are UK based) and (iii) ensuring that any brand name is clearly added to the relevant content.

“Carrying out regular image and brand name checks online as well as using a trademark ‘watch’ service to monitor third parties applying to register the same or a similar brand name or logo is highly recommended to maintain IP rights and take swift action if there is a breach.

“The much-discussed metaverse, which supports online 3-D virtual reality environments, may lead to further changes. Whether or not the hype is to be believed, the sooner that content creators can become comfortable with their IP rights, the better able they will be to navigate the latest technological developments and ensure that their content can be monetised and protected.

“Technology is an ever-moving target but me and my team remain up to date with the latest legal developments and are on hand to advise businesses on the best way to protect their valuable IP.”

If you have any specific concerns relating to your intellectual property rights then contact Rosie Burbidge here, a recommended lawyer in both the Legal 500 and Chamber & Partners.