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Facebook Usernames Set Dangerous Precedent

Companies may try to capture their trademarks anywhere in URLs.

When Facebook announced that it was letting users reserve vanity URLs, the company put in place trademark protection measures. Twitter also has rules governing the use of usernames, which are found in Twitter URLs as Twitter.com/username.

It makes sense to protect both companies and individuals from people impersonating them on social networks. But it also sets a worrisome precedent that other social networks — and even regular web sites — will be subject to trademark holders claiming rights to disallow trademarks anywhere in URLs. For example, if I had a page at DomainNameWire.com/Coca-Cola.html, the company may ask that I take it down.

If this sounds far-fetched, just ask anyone who has received a cease and desist because of a keyword meta tag on their web site (I have seen those) or a company name being mentioned somewhere on a web page (I have received one of these).

Trademarks should be protected at two domain levels only: the top level (e.g. .com) and second level (e.g. company.tld). Domain owners should be allowed to use a company or trademark name in a subdomain (a.k.a. third level domain) as well as any directory. I worry that the policies of Facebook and Twitter may get trademark lawyers to start expanding that definition.

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  1. Trey says

    On another note, people could eventually spoil their own websites by over dependency on Twitter etc. It would be ok if twitter was an application that you could run and control on your own site that linked backed to twitter.

    However, as it stands, twitter are free to do whatever it wants with the following you build up on the twitter username less probably in it for the website owner over time.

  2. Robert Haastrup-Timmi says

    Andrew, are you really suggesting it’s ok for me to have facebook.com/coca-cola or facebook.com/ibm etc..? I believe there are very serious implications indeed. Facebook and Twitter are now “Global” utilities!!

    It is fine if you have a small puny social network somewhere, but when you have a utility that becomes globally dominant, it really does become a huge issue for trademarks. Just imagine what you could do with facebook.com/IBM …that is serious stuff if you put a lot of crap on there right?

  3. Patrick McDermott says

    “or a company name being mentioned somewhere on a web page (I have received one of these).”

    Andrew,

    So what did you do?

    • Andrew Allemann says

      Patrick, I pointed out that the reference to their trademark on the page was actually a Google Adsense ad that the lawyer’s company had placed. Never heard back. Go figure 🙂

  4. Patrick McDermott says

    “Andrew, are you really suggesting it’s ok for me to have facebook.com/coca-cola or facebook.com/ibm etc..?”

    Robert,

    I’m sure Andrew will answer you.

    For whatever it’s worth since I read the same posting as you I do not believe Andrew was suggesting facebook.com/coca-cola should be allowed.

    That would be impersonating the Coca Cola company.

    I believe he thinks one should be allowed to write about and use a company trademark on
    a blog including using it in as a webpage identifier.

    That is not impersonation.

    I think Andrew is concerned Twitter’s trademark protection measures on User Names may set a precedent encouraging company lawyers to expand upon these protections blocking any use or mention of their trademarks anywhere on a site or blog.

    But I’ll let Andrew clarify.

  5. Bradley D. Thornton says

    An entire industry was created out of what many claimed was a near criminal act of extortion, calling it cybersquatting, a term even Network Solutions referred to concerning individuals and companies that register domain names on speculation that someone who wasn’t savvy enough to register the character string when it was available would be interested in buying it later.

    Once Congress got ahold of the issue and legislated what the term means, the meaning changed. Now it’s called domain speculation, domaining, etc., and is considered by many to be a legitimate business endeavor. For some, very few, speculators, it actually pays out a little too.

    Once upon a time there was no such thing as cybersquatting, or even domain hi-jacking. Heck, you would just call up the internic on their 800 number or send them an email at their website, nic.ddn.mil (later internic.net) and tell them that the template they received was bogus and to pls flag your domain so it doesn’t happen in the future.

    This was when it required money to “reserve” a domain name, while registration was free.

    Then it was $35.00/yr

    Then the IAHC, the MoU, the green paper white pater Jon Postel dying, and ICANN being born all sort of added to the mix up, and domain speculation (Let’s call it what it is, cybersquatting) began in earnest. Federal legislation legitimized it.

    Once upon a time there was FCFS, no trademark arguments, and Intellectual property was what you put in your site, not the name of it.

    AS a TLD Holder, operating several TLDs, I’m a staunch supporter and enforcer of FCFS as the primary determination as to the legitimacy of a registration. You see, there are already Federal and International Trademark Laws and if you break them, well, let’s just say that if you registered the SLD coca-cola.com and suddenly coca-cola wants it, there is going to be a suit, and coca-cola is not only going to win, but the infringing registrant is going to be fined for attempting to co-opt the trademark.

    But with arbitration (and indeed it is very flawed) it’s a relatively painless (financially) process to steal someone’s domain – real trademark and IP ownders sue cybersquatters and put them in the poe-haus. Why mess around with arbitration when you can completely destroy the cybersquatter?

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I love cybersquatters… um, domainers, I mean. Why? coz they register lots of SLDs under my TLDs, and my company makes money. Once they get a domain they sit on it, relentlessly, and then when they see it will never go anywhere they triy to dump it on a noob domainer who often let’s it return to the pool of available domain names.

    What happens when a trademark holder wants your domain? Well, let’s see now. How ’bout coca-cola.net.au??? It’s got the string in it and it’s a 3LD too! hm.. Well, you could say that it’s equivilant to an SLD, but what does it matter to coca-cola bottling Co, if someone is using the string? I know it belongs to them, but does this mean that in order to zealously protect their copyrights they need to sue someone at myspace or twitter or go after ALL several hundred gTLDs and ccTLDS that have that string registered?

    According to most legal counsel, yes. but attorneys make more money if there’s more controversy. some attorneys will point out to their clients that benandjerrys.il or benandjerrys.fi are rather stupid targets to go after – besides, why have anything but .com if you’re just going to bankrupts small trademark holders by suing everyone under 200 or so TLDs?

    It’s stupid. FCFS is the best way to go IMO, yet the Federal Government legislated into existences, under the advisement of ICANN, and entire industry that almost guarantees that the short, meaningful domain name you wanted isn’t going to be available via the pool of available domain names.

    Well, it’s a double edged sword – as a registry operator I’m not complaining, and when we get court orders to delete a domain registration (we don’t do transfers unless it’s a mutually agreed upon thang by both parties), there’s always someone else waiting to snatch it up based on the publicity that wants to be challenged in court.

    We just make money on each registration, but it’s usually a lose lose situation for the potential registrant as well as the cybersquatter, er… domain speculator, rather.

    I benefit, but I don’t like the industry. It’s not fair – people should go to registrars to register domains, and if they’re not there then they should consider another string for hat TLD.

    Domainers shouldn’t be the victims either, spending huge amounts of investment money in the hopes they’ll break even, or make some bank – only to have their registrations delted.

    I’m not offering up answers, but I do have my own ideas. I’m just pointing out that the whole thing is a mess, but since Congress legalized it and ICANN created structures and supporting industries for resolution disputes (UDRP), based on a loaded BoD and money in their back pockets from WIPO contituents, it is a reality, and some of us are cashing in on vaporware!

    One of the most frustrating things is when you go to what you think is going to be a website and you end up on one of those parked and tagged pages on a speculated domain.

    Even more frustrating is when someone invokes UDRP against you and steals your cybersquatted domain.

    And the worst of all, is when your name is Virtual Works Networks, and Volkswagon comes and offers you a jillion dollars for your RFC compliant domain name, “VW.NET”, withdraws the outrageously unrefusable offer, and replaces it with an offer for say, twenty bucks (which was refused by the folks at Virtual Works).

    Now, for all you cybersquatters out there, if someone offered you all the retirement money in the world for your mom’s photo album and sewing machine – you would jump on it (thanks mom!).

    But Volkswagon immediately invoked UDRP, claiming domain extortion via domain ransoming by the longtime ISP, and vw.net was theirs – even though they had no use for it, and in the process destroyed the ISP who now had no brand!

    Just food for thought buoys and gulls, domains are there to add value to your brand or business product, and with the introduction of more and more TLDs into the alternate, deprecated, ICANN legacy root system, even the markets of domain speculators is dwindling.

    Soon, sunrise pre-registration periods will never set, and anyone registering a domain will have to apply for a service mark, trademark, or patent prior to registering a domain.

    Well, maybe not, but something akin to that ridiculous scenario.

    Cheers,

    Bradley D. Thornton
    Manager Network Services
    NorthTech Computer

    .

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