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?
Note: This article was updated January 2021 to remove specific identification of the names of any individuals involved in the case in order to protect their privacy. The information about the case is presented solely as a matter of historical record documenting court decisions involving social media.
Update: An update to the outcome of the case was published by the LA Times in March 2012
As reported by NJ.com; a New Jersey woman still faces charges this week in a case of first impression in an identity theft indictment. The woman, 41, is being accused of impersonating her ex-boyfriend, a Parsippany Detective, by creating a Facebook page in his likeness. The Facebook account, created in 2009, allegedly contained modified images of the man as well as derogatory comments seemingly made by him. The woman was indicted in August 2010 by a Morris County grand jury on a fourth-degree charge of identity theft, which is punishable upon conviction by up to 18 months in prison.
Her defense attorney is claiming that New Jersey’s statute does not apply to her case because, “it does not specifically address impersonation through the use of social media or the Internet.”
Superior Court Judge David Ironson has ruled that this defense “lacks merit” and will uphold the conviction. Judge Ironson has stated that the Internet is a means of accomplishing a goal of impersonation, but just because New Jersey’s law doesn’t specifically mention it as a vehicle to impersonate doesn’t mean the statute doesn’t apply to the woman’s alleged conduct.
So although the New Jersey statute doesn’t specifically mention “Social Media” in its wording, we must be able interpret the law accordingly. Social Media is a form of communication and what is said and published there is comparable with impersonation in print or in person.
Prosecutors have argued that although the statue doesn’t “include or exclude electronic communications it is applicable to a broad spectrum of impersonation techniques.” The woman has allegedly assumed the identity of another person and acted to injure the man’s reputation and career as a police officer. This can be done through multiple mediums and Facebook is no different in this aspect.
States like New York and California have amended their own impersonation statutes to include “Social Media” in its text. Her defense team is arguing that these states dismissed cases like hers until those laws were amended. New Jersey does currently have a bill in congress to adjust their original statute, but Morris County prosecutors and Judge alike agree that this is a clarification of the existing statute. They still interpret the existing law to include all mediums, including the ever-growing world of Social Media.
Paul Krugman is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times and writes that his social media identity was stolen on Google+.
He writes in the Times:
“Well, this is interesting. I hear that the not-so-good people at National Review are attacking me over something I said on my Google+ page. Except, I don’t have a Google+ page.This is the third incident I’m aware of — there may well be more — in which people are claiming to be me. There was also my nonexistent connection with academia.edu, and at least one web opinion piece by someone claiming to be me (and sounding not at all like me)”
Slate reported Krugmans fake identity was writing insensitive commentary in regards to the earthquake:
“Yesterday, a Google+ account belonging to “Paul Krugman” posted this thought experiment about the earthquake.
People on twitter might be joking, but in all seriousness, we would see a bigger boost in spending and hence economic growth if the earthquake had done more damage.”
Obviously this makes Krugman look bad, whether he wrote it or not. Social media identity theft is messy. Individuals who want to maintain solid online reputations must first secure their names accross social media so imposters can’t mess with thier name. Brand managers at corporations must understand their brand is intellectual capital that when soiled affects them in ways we are only beginning to understand.
With the launch of the new Google+ Social Network last week there has been a landrush of (mostly techie) people to start trying out the new service. As with anything new and untested, always be wary of your privacy settings on the web, and especially to whom you’re giving your information.
JULY 6 UPDATE: Someone associated with the site from Turkey got in touch with us and updated their site to include a simple About message which explains they are not trying to do anything malicious, and they are not affiliated with Google. They also changed the appearance to make it look less like an actual Google page. Wasn’t so hard, was it?
In Panama City Florida a local and respected teachers’ identity was used to create a fake Twitter profile which spouted off derogatory comments about autistic students. The teacher works with special needs students and had no idea this was going on until she was informed by officials questioning her and the profile.
The Twitter profile included the teachers name, photo, and town along with the derogatory comments. People all over the world started contacting local officials demanding her be ousted after they saw what “she” was writing.
When this came to the attention of the school they immediately brought her in for questioning to determine if she was the author. Their initial questioning led them to believe she was not the author; however they made her bring in her laptop and examined her hard drive for further investigation.
As I’ve said before, identity theft is the only crime I can think of where you are guilty until proven innocent. Once something like this happens it can quickly and easily damage your reputation.
Online Security Tips:
Right now grab your name on all the popular social media sites. Sign up for every one of them even if you don’t intend on using them. If your name is gone use a hyphen or a dash. For free search over 500 popular social networks and over 200 domain names to instantly secure your brand across the social web at Knowem.com.
Set up Google Alerts or ask about KnowEm Enterprise Alerts to determine if your name is being used online. You want to instantly know if someone is using your name for any reason.
The worst thing you can do is nothing. Sitting back and just letting someone use your name can damage your brand, YOU.
Do you know who it is you’re actually following on Twitter? Facebook? MySpace? Due to the recent explosion of interest in Twitter, thanks in no small part to Ashton (@aplusk) and Oprah (@oprah), celebrities and regular folk are flocking to Twitter. But how do you know if the person you’re following is actually a celebrity, and not just regular folk? You can’t, and Twitter is still very quiet about any plans to stop Twitterjacking: the act of impersonating someone else on Twitter.
The biggest concern with your brand identity in Online Reputation Management and Social Media used to be just giving your brand a good name. But what happens if someone steals your brand name? Do you think they’re going to be as concerned with your reputation? The need for businesses to secure their brand name on every possible venue has never been greater.
Knowem co-founder Mike Streko was recently interviewed by Fox News in a report about Twitterjacking: “Unless you start spending money to put out press releases saying that’s not your profile or jump through hoops to contact Twitter, it never works out well.”
The truth is, it’s almost impossible to get your brand name or username back once it’s been taken. Unlike when someone takes yourbrandname.com, there is no universal naming authority for social media profiles. As a brand owner, you’re basically at the mercy of the site owner. Or, since there are hundreds (if not thousands) of social media websites thriving today, you would have to appeal your case to every individual site owner to get your brand name profile back.
Or you could just use KnowEm’s username signup service (or monthly subscription service) to secure all your brand name profiles today, in just one click.