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12|28|2008 02:50 am EDT

Reverse User Name Hijackings Next?

by Adam Strong in Categories: Legal Issues

Days after our post that social media user names are becoming more like domain names, an issue over a Twitter user name has piqued the interest of an internet heavy-weight.  According to a seesmic post from Kevin Rose, creator of Digg.com,  Social media company Room214 has requested that the user, a school teacher, who is using @room214 give them the user name.   The company Room 214 uses the Twitter user name @room_214 and wants the better name now.

For those unfamiliar with the terminology, reverse domain name hijacking is defined on wikipedia as “the practice of inequitably unseating domain name registrants by accusing them of violating weak or non-existent trademarks related to the domain name.”  In essence what we seem to be seeing here is a similar case of someone trying to unseat a Twitter user, or a case of reverse user name hijacking on Twitter.  According to Stepan Mazurov of Room 214 “once it goes through . . . we have to protect it”, which seems to imply that they plan to move forward with requesting Twitter give them the user name.

Rose weighed in on this issue and posted a Seesmic video opening up the discussion. As of this writing, there were 12 video replies posted back with varying opinions on the matter, none seem to be from a legal expert, yet.  We suspect more to come as this issue rises to the surface.  Chris Hadley points out the similarities user names have with domain names and how users losing Twitter accounts can become a real nightmare. “What protection do we have over our Twitter accounts . . .  if this guy loses his Twitter account to this company, how do you protect yourself”.

Twitter’s policy states in barebones terms that they reserve the right to take user names and give them to another entity :

We reserve the right to reclaim usernames on behalf of businesses or individuals that hold legal claim or trademark on those usernames.

Under this policy what happens when you have a generic user name and someone has a trademark on that term, or if your company name or even intials are the same or as another company name ?  There are multiple trademarks for the word United, so which user has the “rights” to that user name under this vague policy?  It seems to be whomever Twitter feels like giving it to.  Will the Twitter account @bmw be given to the auto maker when they come knocking ?

DNN issued our view on the matter in our previous post and it reflects a sentiment similar to what Hadley said

“Just like domain name owners, social media users don’t want the hassle and uncertainty of having to wonder whether their name will be taken away.  Surely, the social media companies don’t want to be in the middle of the disputes either.  Refering to the history of domain names as an example, it would be a safe wager that lawsuits and arbitration over user names is right around the corner.  It would be best for these social media companies to get ahead of the issue as soon as possible and make the user names even more like domain names by providing some level of security and stability to their users.”

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