It’s no secret that many young Singaporeans aspire to become social media influencers. However, being an influencer is not all just sponsored trips to Bali and promoting clothing brands – you could land yourself in trouble if you’re not careful.
Whether you’re a young, up-and-coming influencer or an established one, you should take note of the following “do’s” and “don’ts” to avoid legal trouble in your influencer journey.
1. DON’T pass off others’ work as your own
Pretending that someone’s photograph, drawing, art, poem, or any other work as your own constitutes a infringement of copyright. Doing so may expose you to a range of civil liabilities. This includes:
- Having to pay up any profits earned by you in the process of infringing the copyright; and
- Compensating the original owner for any damage suffered by him/her.
You may even be liable for a fine of up to $50,000 and imprisonment of up to 3 years if you deliberately infringe someone else’s copyright for the purpose of financially benefiting your business.
If you wish to use someone’s work on your social media, please ask the original owner for permission. You may learn more about how to avoid copyright infringement when using others’ photos in our other article.
To ensure you don’t suddenly disappear on your followers and fans, make sure you respect the intellectual property rights of others.
Last but definitely not least, as was made clear by the Daryl Aiden Yow saga, passing off others’ work as your own can severely damage your reputation as an influencer and eliminate the possibility of companies looking to work with you.
Daryl was a reputable Singapore photographer before he was caught using stock images on his Instagram account as though they have been taken by him.
2. DON’T make false claims about any product or service
Section 6 of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act provides that an individual who promotes the use or purchase of products or services as a business and makes a false claim about these products/services can be sued by the consumer.
In other words, if you advertise on behalf of a brand, and in the process of doing so make a false claim about the brand’s product, you can be sued by the consumer.
To avoid legal trouble (and damage to your reputation as an influencer), it is best to keep to claims that can be verified. If in doubt, do clarify with the brand or do your own research about the product.
3. DON’T artificially increase your follower count
Boosting engagement through fraudulent means, such as purchasing “likes” or followers, is a breach of the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) Guidelines for Interactive Marketing Communication & Social Media.
These ASAS Guidelines, targeted at parties who use social media marketing in Singapore, set out standards of behaviour for influencer marketing. The ASAS relies largely on industry self-regulation to ensure compliance with the ASAS Guidelines.
However, failure to comply with the Guidelines may lead to negative publicity if ASAS decides to conduct an investigation and then publicise its findings.
Artificially boosting your follower count is also a breach of Facebook’s Community Standards and Instagram’s Community Guidelines, which form part of the respective companies’ Terms of Service. Failure to comply may result in your account being deactivated.
Finally, artificially increasing your follower count may subject you to unwanted scrutiny if and when the social media platforms take action, such as during the “Instagram Purge” (mass removal of inactive/ “ghost” followers).
It does not look good on you if others find out that half your followers on Instagram aren’t even human beings.
4. DON’T use your platform to engage in cyberbullying or online harassment
Once you’ve amassed a sizeable following, it may be tempting to use your clout to call out those against whom you have a grudge, or cyberbully them. However, doing so may constitute defamation, which may make you liable to compensate the person that you have defamed.
Additionally, defamation is a criminal offence under the Penal Code, and may subject you to imprisonment of up to 2 years and/or a fine.
Finally, making a threatening or insulting communication with the intention of harassing another person is an offence under the Protection from Harassment Act.
You may be liable to imprisonment of up to 6 months and/or a fine of up to $5,000, with enhanced penalties if you are a repeat offender. You may learn more about the Protection from Harassment Act in our other article.
5. DO let your followers know if your post is sponsored
On top of maintaining your reputation as an honest influencer, properly identifying your sponsored posts is mandated by the ASAS Guidelines.
You must disclose the fact that your post is sponsored if you receive any cash or other non-financial incentives from the sponsor in return for the post.
For example, if you are invited to a free food tasting event in return for a review post, your post is sponsored and this will have to be disclosed to your followers. You must disclose this even if your review post genuinely reflects your honest opinion about the food.
The Guidelines require that disclosure of sponsored content be displayed as early as reasonably possible. As such, it is advisable to make sure that the disclosure can be noticed by your followers without having to click on a “See More” or “More” button.
The ASAS has provided examples of written disclosures. You may, for example, include the line “this post was sponsored by…” or simply use the hashtag “#adv” if your post has length constraints. More examples may be found at the ASAS’ Guidance Notes here.
Perhaps more importantly, do consider the potential fallout when your followers find out that a post which appears to be genuine is actually sponsored.
In 2015, a scandal erupted after Gushcloud influencers criticised M1 and Starhub’s services without revealing that their posts had been sponsored by Singtel. The then-Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) subsequently launched an investigation into the matter.
Singtel and Gushcloud also apologised for their actions. Such ensuing events demonstrated that few are spared when something of this nature comes to light.
6. DO pay attention to contract terms and ensure all obligations (on both sides) are laid out clearly
Even if no hard-copy contract is signed (for example, if all correspondence is done through email), make sure that you clarify all the obligations that you and the brand will be subject to.
Some things to keep in mind include:
(a) What exactly are your deliverables?
In other words, what exactly are you supposed to do? Is the engagement a one-off event, or are you expected to be an ambassador for the brand for an extended period? If you are asked to make a post, what is the exact date and time for you to do so? Who decides the content of the post?
(b) What are the payment terms?
Be sure that the exact amount and date and mode of payment are laid out clearly. If the payment is non-monetary in nature, ensure that there are no misunderstandings about your remuneration. For example, if you receive a free product, are you allowed to re-sell it?
(c) What intellectual property rights will you have over your work?
Lawyer Ronald Wong says it’s key for social media influencers to review and negotiate the clauses on intellectual property (copyright in particular) over media content they generate and post – “whether it is assigned to the client, or given an irrevocable royalty-free global licence, or merely given a limited licence.”
(d) Is there a non-compete clause?
Some brands may prefer that you do not work with their competitors. If there is such a non-compete clause, make sure you understand what you are prevented from doing, and for how long.
(e) How can the contract be terminated and can the client continue to use your work after that?
Suppose you decide that you no longer wish to work with the brand. Are you allowed to end the contractual relationship? And how would you go about doing so?
Lawyer Ronald Wong says influencers should also include a clause to address how long the client can use your work for.
“The client would want to have the right to repost the content during the term of the contract. But after the contract is terminated, should the client have the right to continue using the influencer’s content which he/she developed?
What if 10 years after the contract has been terminated, the client is still using the influencer’s photos, videos, and graphics? Would this be a fair bargain?”
7. DO file the proper tax returns for income earned through social media activities
If you receive any products or services that are worth more than $100, or regularly over a period of time, you must declare them as part of your taxable income to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS).
You may learn more about filing your taxes for income earned through social media activities in our other article.
Do note that omitting or understating your income, if done negligently or without reasonable excuse, is a criminal offence. You will be liable for double the tax undercharged in addition to a fine of up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 3 years.
Being an influencer can be very rewarding if you act ethically and legally. When in doubt, try placing yourself in the shoes of your followers and asking yourself how you would like to be treated. If you need legal advice on your activities as an influencer, do consider consulting a lawyer.