In a word … no. No matter how powerful or perfectly suited to your brand, no matter how fully it speaks to your campaign, regardless that it feels like your intellectual property in every way, no, it can’t be copyrighted.
Popularized on Twitter as a means of indexing tweets, hashtags have taken on a life of their own on most other social media platforms, allowing us to quickly search and view related content, and have even creeped into communication in general. What’s more, hashtags have become the slogan or central focus of many social media movements, generating conversation, emotion, action and – you guessed it – going viral.
The power of hashtags has not been lost on the marketing industry. Appreciating their trendsetting value, their ability to drive conversation, traffic, and sales has made brands eager to create their own hashtags and keep a firm hand on the reigns, keeping control of their hashtag by preventing other brands from using it.
But too short to copyright, and unlike inventions or ideas one can patent, the only way to protect your hashtag is to trademark it. And yes, you can trademark a hashtag. If you can effectively demonstrate why you need to do so, and if your product or service can be directly associated with that hashtag, trademark registration is possible and can offer you some protection. Although it won’t stop others from using your hashtag, you can legally challenge a business who appears to be using it to undermine or directly compete with you.
But is it worth it? Naturally, you can assume that challenge won’t be simple. You can also assume it will be time consuming, costly and downright frustrating – and quite possibly unsuccessful in the end.
So, what do you do with that perfect hashtag? If you come up with one that’s truly irresistible, one that’s sure to drive engagement and conversation about your brand – and it hasn’t already been branded by a competitor – go for it. Then relax, enjoy the attention, and don’t worry much about others wanting to use it. After all, isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery?