2009.04.23

Cybersquatting the Social Networks: A New Trademark Risk

WebProNews has recently published a couple alarming articles concerning name squatting on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. The author, Chris Crum, correctly notes in his article titled “Cybersquatting Goes Social” that cybersquatting continues to be a growing problem on the Internet (see Figure 1.).  However, he brings to light another growing problem that trademark owners face as cybersquatters partake in the unethical and illegal practice of registering trademark protected brands with the popular social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.  

Domain name dispute law
  Figure 1. Wipo Domain Name Cases.
This may become a bigger issue in social media. Recently we looked at a Twitter account purchased by CNN (they actually acquired the "services" of the account holder...presumably to avoid the buying/selling of a Twitter account and breaking any terms of service).

That may not have been a case of cybersquatting exactly, but it's not hard to imagine it getting the wheels turning in the minds of the unethical. The same goes for Facebook Pages.

Chris Lynch at Inside Facebook recently discussed a Facebook page called "Brooklyn, New York," which is not owned by that city, but rather somebody trying to sell ads on it.  Lynch suggests that this could run counter to Facebook's Terms, which say:

Facebook Pages are special profiles used solely for commercial, political, or charitable purposes. You may not set up a Facebook Page on behalf of another individual or entity unless you are authorized to do so. This includes fan Facebook Pages, as well as Facebook Pages to support or criticize another individual or entity.

There are many Facebook Pages that are simply there to support brands, as mentioned in the terms. They're created by fans with no ill will. So what do you do if someone else has a page set up for your brand, assuming you don't want to wait on Facebook to sort it out?

 

Actually Inside Facebook's Justin Smith posted an article about this that we referenced at WebProNews a while back. Options you have include:
- Ask Facebook to transfer control of the Page to you

- Ask the Page owners to transfer control to you

- Ask the Page owner to share control with you

- Ask Facebook to shut the Page down

- Let the Page continue to exist, and start an "official" Page of your own

What trademark owners need to realize is that they must protect their brands on the internet or risk diminishing those brands and their trademark rights across the board.  A trademark registration attorney with experience in cybersquatting matters knows how the various policies work in the social networking realm, as well as which federal and state laws can be used to apply leverage to stop the cybersquatting cold.  Feel free to contact one of our domain dispute attorneys for more information.

COMMENTS

Facebook recently declined to give us back our US trademarked user name that we use internationally and copyrighted in the U.S and other countries from a regular user on the basis of first come first serve, so in that sense Facebook allows Copyright and Trademark Infringement on it's domain and does nothing to prevent it so it is Responsible at 100% for the Infringement given it's importance and influence, users basically do whatever they want it is why Facebook is the one that manages the content of the site, Facebook would act swiftly if let's say Porn material is posted on it's site, but the fact it refuses to protect other companies' trademarks and rights on it's domain make them the number one responsible, if Facebook comes to encounter it's name being used under let's say Flickr.com/facebook by a user on the Flickr domain than it is in Flickr best interests to remove that username and give it back to Facebook, but Facebook fails to do the same on it's domain sounds like pure hypocrisy and would be absolute logic to seek legal action against Facebook not the user squatting the name or just using it without knowing it is someone's trademark, Your article makes it sound as a simple process where we encountered careless representatives answering our emails by copying and pasting statements established in a how to book probably by their legal team which fails completely to address case by case scenarios, it is extremely worrying to see a website with such a big number of users act so irresponsibly toward business requests such as this.

Our internet law attorneys are seeing a dramatic increase in trademark infringement on Facebook and Twitter. Social media continues to become a more important tools for business marketing. Protecting your trademark name on those platforms is critical to your overall internet IP protection strategy. While various internet laws protect you here, it is always best to protect yourself and avoid having to hire an attorney if possible.

I think that a court would find that Facebook canvas URLs would be subject to cybersquatting laws, even though they have held that subdirectories do not indicate a source-identifying function in the past. I think the nature of Facebook and the value of the canvas URLs shows that they do indicate source. It will be interesting to see what happens as Facebook apps become more established and cases develop.

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