Here’s a great question that I received recently:
Is it true that custom-made social media icons that match the blog is infringing on copyright laws? I see so many use them but reading Facebook & Twitter’s terms it sounds like it’s illegal to change the icon color? Thanks!
Before I begin, I need to clarify that I am not a lawyer and this post does not constitute legal advice. I can give you my take, my research, and my opinion, but please don’t accept this post as law or legal advice.
That being said…
Social media sites do have policies against modifying their logos
Almost every social media site (at least the big ones) have guidelines and policies for using their logos. They have style guides. Here are a few examples:
The big thing here is that these brands have trademarks on their logos. They have a legal right to control how their logo is represented. For example, here are a few takeaways from the Twitter guidelines:
The Twitter marks include, but are not limited to, the Twitter name, logo, the term “Tweet” and any word, phrase, image, or other designation that identifies the source or origin of any of Twitter’s products. Do not modify or alter the marks or use them in a confusing way, including suggesting sponsorship or endorsement by Twitter, or in a way that confuses Twitter with another brand. Use our official and unmodified Twitter bird to represent Twitter.
Twitter Brand Assets and Guidelines
- Use speech bubbles or words around the bird
- Rotate or change the direction of the bird
- Animate the bird
- Flock the bird with other birds or other creatures
- Change the color of the bird
- Overprint or obstruct any part of the bird
- Anthropomorphize the bird
- Add special effects to the bird
- Use old versions or any other marks or logos to represent our brand
The important key points are: you cannot modify the logo, you cannot change the color of the bird.
The other social media sites have similar guidelines dictating which colours you can use and they specify that you cannot modify the logo.
Holy crap, will I get in trouble??
These companies could choose to sue you
Legally speaking, they own these logos, they have every right to control how they’re presented, and they COULD choose to sue you if they wanted. But that being said…
Unless you’re making money from modified logos, you’re probably okay
Although these companies COULD sue anyone violating these rules, they probably wouldn’t. First, I think these rules are primarily in place for two reasons:
- To regulate how their logos appear in marketing campaigns. So when an advert on TV says “follow us on Twitter”, they want to regulate how that logo appears. These are big, paid marketing campaigns we’re talking about.
- To prevent people from making money off of custom, modified versions of their logos.
So my main opinion here is that if you’re a hobbyist blogger who has some modified social media icons in your sidebar to match your design, they probably won’t care.
If you’re selling modified logos on Etsy, they’re more likely to care because suddenly you’re making money off of this illegal behaviour.
Now let me go back to that hobbyist blogger point. Yes there is a small amount of risk in using modified logos, but I don’t see it as a huge risk. Let’s say Facebook does get pissed off at you. Their first step probably won’t be to sue you. Instead, their first step would probably be to send a cease and desist letter. That means they send you a letter saying, “Please stop, you’re violating our policies.” So then you get the letter and stop. No harm done.
It’s up to you to make a judgement call
I’m not recommending that you ignore the law, which would state you’re not allowed to modify these images. All I’m really saying is that YES you’re not allowed to modify them, BUT so many people do. The odds of you getting sued if you’re a hobbyist blogger are extremely low. The odds of you getting sued without first getting a cease and desist letter are even lower.