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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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  • http://www.room214.com James Clark

    I’m James Clark, co-founder of Room 214, http://www.room214.com and I can honestly say that my business partner, nor I, have never even remotely discussed obtaining the Twitter name @room214

    It was our approach from the beginning for each of us to use our own personal Twitter accounts. In 2007 when we thought it would a good idea to just to grab the name and when we found it was already taken we never even thought about it again — Colin Davitt beat us to it and that was fine. We would never in any way seek to push any legal angle on this. It’s not our style at all.

    I can assure you with total honesty that my business partner and I have not asked to pursue or threatened any legal action, or even discussed the situation among ourselves, with our employees or with our lawyers. It’s never been anything we even remotely considered. It was taken so we moved on.

    This is an unfortunate situation of an employee acting independently without ever consulting or notifying us of his actions.

    We wish Colin Davitt only the best and will never ask for any concession for his Twitter name. It’s his and his only.

    With appreciation and honesty.

    James Clark
    co-founder, Room 214
    twitter handle: @jamesoclarkI

  • Adam Strong

    Thanks James. It is unfortunate that you are caught up in this and I hope you can turn this in to something good. For this post, your issue was just one that was brought up on our radar because of Kevin and the coincidence that we were investigating these exact issues. Whether or not this was done by a rogue employee or not, the issue still remains. I think the situation you found yourselves in will be more and more common place in the future.

  • http://llll.com Reece Berg

    Thanks for letting everyone know James.

    I have to agree with Adam and really do think we’ll see arbitration over usernames on popular social media sites in the future. Just like a domain name, a social media username has value — perhaps even value on a comparable level to a domain name when you think about all the time invested with that username and all the contacts which know you by that username.

    Would people be more willing to trust someone who has a good username like they do someone who sets up a website on a good domain name? It really wouldn’t surprise me if so. If someone were looking to find a company on a social media platform, surely the name of the company would be among the first things they try.

  • http://www.room214.com James Clark

    Adam and Reece, thanks for the response. I agree the issue of Twitter ID rights is something that is going to start rising to the surface more often than not.

    Adam, I look forward to reading what you continue to find about the subject.

  • http://www.wippo.com WIPPO

    Here is the simple solution. If you own the dot com then you own all real estate connected with that domain. This goes with social media sites as well. The real cyber squatters are those using alias’s on any site without owning their dot com.

    End of story.

    WIPPO
    World Internet Property Protection Organization

  • http://www.worldinternetdomains.com Jeff Geaney

    Yes WIPPO, totally correct. If you don’t own your dot com you are a dot con.

  • http://GeoOwners.com tim davids

    when twitter starts yanking names peeps will get pissed at twitter as the corporate bad guy and they will jump to the next best thing …twitter isn’t all that complicated to duplicate.

  • Adam Strong

    Not even a trademark gives you “rights” to a domain let alone a user name. Obviously the theory WIPPO and Jeff (same IP) are proposing is a bit off base.

    Tim – twitter has already been duplicated, but it has the ball rolling a little better than the rest. Now it needs to keep the momentum and keep creating the next best thing.

  • http://www.domainincubation.com/ Chris Nielsen

    Thanks so much to Room 214 for clearing the air about this. I don’t like infringment, but I don’t like companies that come down hard on people who may not understand or be aware of a problem. I think companies should be NICE at first and try to resolve the problem, then if the owner is a jerk, nail them to the wall.

    Now I’m going to visit Room 214 and see what their site is about. :-)

  • http://www.wannadevelop.com/ wannadevelop.com

    I think all of this is pretty ridiculous.

    You know that good ol’ saying… Finders, keepers!

    What arbitration?? What is there to figure out here… This is just too funny.

    What’s next, e-mail surnames over @hotmail or @yahoo etc..

    Come on guys, the companies provide you a FREE service. You should read the terms of use and policies before you start complaining over this stuff.

    If you want to have “rights” and make demands, you can… Once you buy into something, there is a contract/ promise and obligation to provide whatever it is you paid for.

    Slow day…. Ya’ll must be real bored :p

    Best,

    Mike

    http://www.wannadevelop.com

  • http://www.wannadevelop.com/ wannadevelop.com

    So, what I meant to say was… Don’t take the service for granted, because it can be gone any given day….. Don’t believe me? Consult with a lawyer who knows this stuff. Doh!

  • Dee

    slow news day indeed when twitter usernames are being “investigated” LOL

  • Adam Strong

    Mike and Dee. Thanks for your comments. Sure you can say it’s a slow news day. It was after all a holiday weekend, but that doesn’t make the story any less relevant. We’re covering this as it is a topic being discussed outside of the insular world of domains, but yet has striking similarities to domain name issues/stories.

    On one hand people are building VC backed businesses on these platforms (see StockTwit.com for an example) and at the very other side of the spectrum individuals depend on the platforms as a communication channel. As these individuals and businesses grow and create a product or service on that platform the issues over naming “rights” becomes increasingly important.

  • http://www.wannadevelop.com/ wannadevelop.com

    Adam, I agree with you completely that it is a complicated matter if you break things down and we can do comparisons and analyze many similar cases here all day long… Ultimately, it will be up to the company and website operators to decide this stuff. What users say may or may not have any pull though at the end of the day. It is not easy, and the sooner they do, the better. When things get delayed and nothing is done for a while, that in itself tells you that something is wrong and that they do not know what to do about it. A lot of people will be happy once they do though, and also many will be upset and pissed off. It is what it is.
    Best,
    Mike

  • http://www.ParkingFirm.com ParkingFirm.com

    That’s Bollocks, ummm.. reckon Trademark holders will have to shell out few million $$’s on some thousand plus popular websites in order to secure their user name eh?!

    -
    Jay M
    ParkingFirm.com
    Information on Domain Parking industry.

  • http://www.winna.com Jeff Geaney

    Adam Strong,

    When you first think of a name, do you get the trademark or the domain name?
    And which suffix do you get; the dot com or the dot whatever option.
    Once you have your domain name doesn’t the dot com have precedence over any trade mark or domain suffix? I don’t think the majority of people these days register a trademark and then check to see if the domain is available, otherwise if they did they would be committing Internet suicide.

    Adam, which suffix are you promoting on the site Domain Name News? The dot com? Strange that. Have you got a trademark for DNN or have we already come that far that we have all realized if anyone should take out a trademark on DNN they would also be committing reverse domain name hijacking.

    The current system that ICANN and WIPO are using is seriously flawed and the quicker you all wake up and recognize this, the more chance you would have holding on to your virtual assets. We are dealing in World Internet Property which is a completely separate issue to World Intellectual property.

    Jeff Geaney
    WINNA
    World Internet Names Numbers Authority

  • http://davezan.com Dave Zan

    Once you have your domain name doesn’t the dot com have precedence over any trade mark or domain suffix?

    Uh…no, it doesn’t. I’d imagine some people like to think that, but your registrar’s agreement doesn’t even grant you such.

    As mentioned earlier, having a trademark doesn’t necessarily grant its holder a right towards its domain namesake. And neither does a domain name grant any kind of intellectual property right, again as stated by your registration contract.

  • http://davezan.com Dave Zan

    Just to clarify my earlier post, one might acquire a trademark right towards their domain registration, depending on a variety of things outside your registrar’s contract.

  • jp

    The solution seems simple to me. If you don’t like Twitter’s policies then don’t use twitter. If people started bailing on Twitter, then perhaps Company Room 214 won’t care so much about getting that username either. I don’t know what it is these days. People will put up with just about anything. Go on strike. It would be one thing if there was some sort of governing body to twitter usernames (Such as ICANN), but the only person you can cry to is twitter, and if they don’t care why should we care about them?

  • question

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

    Why isnt this made part of all new gTLD registry agreements, to provide for existing TMs? Or even put the onus on the registrar to reserve say, all TMs filed in a central register, where everyone can see and contest title, and where title can be certified to enhance liquidity and reduce fraud..

  • Adam Strong

    question thanks for the question. I am not a lawyer but to start answering your question, there are often multiple trademarks on one word phrases “United” for example, so that causes a problem. Additionally, why should a trademark holder be given the privilege of the domain just because they have a mark ? My initials might be IBM, so why couldn’t I have the domain IBM.whatever ? What gives a company or tm holder more rights than anyone else? I hope maybe Mr Berryhill will weigh-in here.