It used to be the biggest fear for a company. Someone would come along and register a domain name with their trademarked term in it followed by a derogatory word. Since ICANN launched the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) however, that practice has basically become a futile waste of money and time.
Thanks to the UDRP, if I was to go out tomorrow and register (CompanyName)sucks.com, (CompanyName)blows.com or (CompanyName)complaints.com I am basically wasting money. If I put any content on that site which mentions the company holding the trademark it is a violation of the UDRP, and all the company has to do is fill out a form and send it to ICANN to have ownership of the domain transferred to the rightful owner of the trademark.
So when Bank of America halted all processing of payments (donations) to wikileaks.org citing that what the site was doing could be deemed illegal, they were attacked by various internet groups, shutting down the banks corporate website. So what did Bank of America do to defend itself?
They registered hundreds of domains with their name as well as the names of the CEO (brianmoynihansucks.com, for example) and other high level executives all with derogatory terms at the end. Now granted in most cases peoples’ names can’t be trademarked so the UDRP wouldn’t work in personal cases, but the point that we are making is in regards to the trademarked brand term. If an attack on a brand is going to happen, it is not going to be done via the registration of a dot com – Social Media is the new weapon of choice. Notice the Twitter and Blogspot accounts pointed out above – why doesn’t Bank Of America own these? There is no central authority or UDRP for Social Media.
During this defensive registration of Bank of America how many social media profiles were secured? None.
The owning of derogatory brand domains is worthless, it will do nothing more than cost you however much you pay for domain registration services and a renewal fee. Attacks that happen today happen on social media. Let’s look at BP for example — their spoofed twitter account has over 150k followers and has actually been able to turn a profit by printing up T-Shirts talking about the infamous oil spill.
In the “fad” that is social media (I say “fad” only because a lot of corporate America still erroneously considers social media just that) this is where we are going to see more and more attacks on companies or business. There is no UDRP for vanity URLs or vanity sub-domains so it is basically the wild west of infringement. Unless a particular social media network has a policy in place for this, at times it can be nearly impossible to get a name removed.
Take Twitter’s policy for example (the following is an excerpt, you can read it in full here).
As we have previously stated with other Twitter accounts which have used or are currently using a trademarked term, (Fanta for Example) if you state in your BIO that you’re not associated with the company as well as never tweet anything that represents the brand then you’re going to be OK. With no UDRP or other central authority to pull down either social media accounts, vanity sub-domains or URLs, there is really nothing you as a brand owner can do.
But this does bring up an interesting question which I personally cannot answer (and I’d love to hear your opionions). Let’s say you do take a name of a trademarked term, and that name is on a social network as a vanity URL or sub-domain – is that enough to actually file a DMCA complaint? If anyone knows about this please let me know in the comments, if not I am going to research this a bit more and see if it could be a viable means to take down an offending profile.
With the latest update of our Enterprise Dashboard we are now including the contact information of the owners of all social media networks that are in our database (usually this includes the phone number, WHOIS information and the physical mailing address). If you’re currently an enterprise customer of KnowEm all you need to do is export your “Profiles Not Under Your Control” to Excel and you will see this new feature. If you’re not an enterprise customer and would like a demo please let us know by filling out our demo request form.
So back to the Twitter….
So unless the person that has registered your trademarked term on twitter is claiming to be your company and tweeting as if they were your company – you’re not getting the account back. Twitter (and most social networks) employ a “first come first serve” policy, making social media sites with vanity URLs or sub-domains truly the wild west of IP infringement. We are still waiting to see what Google+ is going to do with their vanity URL land rush. As I have previously posted it appears that they grandfathered in some of the “Google profiles” which have been phased out with the launch of Google+.
It appears that Google is on top of any and all trademark violations, which is why myself and the team noticed that a lot of Google profiles that had vanity URLs that contained trademarked terms did not receive a Google+ vanity URL even with being grandfathered in. <Shameless Promotion> – Follow Myself on Google+ here: http://google.com/profiles/streko – & my partner in crime (Mr. Barry Wise) here – http://google.com/profiles/itcnbwise </Shameless Promotion>
So to sum everything up, back in 1998 – 2004, yes, registering companynamesucks.com would have worked. You probably would have been able to get it to rank in the search engines when keywords in domain names weighed a bit more, but today its just like taking money and burning it. Social media is the new battlefield for slander and misrepresentation … how well are you protected?