Twitter Squatting – A Growing Concern

Recently a client of mine forwarded an email it received from a Twitter user which read in part “I have been told that your company uses the ___________ name in its ordinary course of business.  I happen to own the _____ name and would be willing to sell this name to you at a mutually agreeable price.” 

It turns out that the Twitter user had registered a Twitter name that was identical to a long standing federally registered trademark of my client.

Such a phenomenon appears to be growing.  In May of this year baseball manager Tony LaRussa was forced to file a lawsuit against Twitter and Does 1-25 in order to stop a Twitter user from using the Twitter name “TonyLaRussa”.  The case was settled shortly thereafter, however, such a filing highlights the growing issue of name squatting that Twitter, and the public at large will need to confront.

Back in the infancy of the web, domain name squatting was a significant issue.  To that end, several major companies paid millions of dollars to retrieve domain names containing either the company name or valuable trademarks.    The enactment of anti-cybersquatting laws quickly curtailed this action.  It appears that enterprising people have now decided to push the limits of name squatting with Twitter.

To Twitter’s credit, Twitter has a specialized “Name Squatting” page on which instructions exist on how to report a name squatting incident to Twitter – www. twitter.zendesk.com/forums/26257/entries/18370  .  Twitter indicates that “Selling free user names is against Twitter Rules.  Accounts created in a serial fashion will be suspended, and user names will no longer be available.”  Further Twitter indicates that: “Attempts to sell or extort other forms of payment in exchange for user names will result in account suspension.”  Laudable intentions by Twitter, but do they really work?  In my case, it remains to be seen.

What this means for museums is that some vigilance is required to protect a person from scooping a Twitter name and using the name for less than admirable purposes – i.e. “hate” tweets for your museum, or otherwise using the Twitter name to intentionally, or unintentionally, deceive recipients as to the origin of the “tweets”.  Remember that even if you are successful in recovering the Twitter name from a third party, any tweets may remain on the Internet and searchable through any search engine.  Thus, the damage may be mitigated but not eliminated.

All museums may want to consider obtaining a Twitter account bearing the museum name.  It is free and it may just help prevent unwanted name squatting by a third person.

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