Trademark Owners Beware: Cybersquatting Spreads to Twitter

By Antony Van Couvering
Antony Van Couvering

TechCrunch reports that its brand has been taken as a Twitter name, and that there is a landrush going on to get these names, which are already trading for money. The problem is so bad that a name brokerage, Tweexchange, has sprung up to get to facilitate sales. Twitter has posted a policy outlawing the sale of names, but a quick review of this policy reveals that it's as as toothless as a newborn baby, and is clearly more observed in the breach than otherwise.

Trademark owners might want to take note of a worrying trend — valuable names that fall outside the DNS, outside any of the recommendations made by ICANN's IRT (Implementation Recommendation Team), outside the UDRP (Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy), and outside of any recourse except for the creaky, expensive, and slow-moving protections of national trademark laws. Twitter's policy offers none of the protections of ICANN's current system, let alone the expanded protections foreseen by the IRT recommendations.

Twitter should be looking hard at a new .TWITTER top-level domain, so that it doesn't have to come up with its own dispute policy. Whatever that policy ends up being, it is sure to engender numerous lawsuits and the headaches and expense that come with them.

Trademark owners, for their part, would be far better off encouraging Twitter to apply for the top-level domain .TWITTER, so that naming disputes could handled by the umbrella policies that are already built into ICANN, instead of the reactive, seat-of-the-pants policies that will emerge from private companies.

By opposing new top-level domains, and thereby encouraging the palpable demand for new names to leak out of the DNS system and into private namespaces, trademark owners are inviting a world of woe upon themselves. Instead of one uniform policy, they are about to find themselves reacting to multiple policies in multiple namespaces governed by recalcitrant companies whose commercial imperatives are completely opposed to what trademark holders see as their legal responsibilities.

Next up — Facebook. After that, who knows? There will be more.

By Antony Van Couvering

Related topics: Cybersquatting, ICANN, Law, Top-Level Domains, UDRP

Comments

By opposing new top-level domains, and thereby Paul Tattersfield  –  Sep 18, 2009 11:34 AM PDT

By opposing new top-level domains, and thereby encouraging the palpable demand for new names to leak out of the DNS system and into private namespaces, trademark owners are inviting a world of woe upon themselves. Instead of one uniform policy, they are about to find themselves reacting to multiple policies in multiple namespaces governed by recalcitrant companies whose commercial imperatives are completely opposed to what trademark holders see as their legal responsibilities.

I’m not sure I follow your logic on this Anthony. Why would a recalcitrant company choose to subject itself to ICANN rules and obligations? Surely they could just choose to use the current model if it’s less onerous? It would certainly be a lot cheaper and no hassle from ICANN.

Twitter uses the format twitter.com/username and similarly Facebook uses facebook.com/username.

Facebook has around 25 million users or so I believe. Wouldn’t these all need to be migrated to second level domains username.facebook to enjoy the kind of protection you are suggesting? Or are you proposing extending UDRP to directories e.g. facebook/username for new gTLDs?

Thanks Paul for your response.A company is Antony Van Couvering  –  Sep 18, 2009 11:56 AM PDT

Thanks Paul for your response.

A company is much better off with ICANN rules than with their own because they would have a predictable set of rules that come with two major advantages: first, they are (largely) protected from litigation if they follow them; and second, they are not blamed, either by their customers or by trademark holders, for the outcome — that is the decision of the UDRP panelists.  ICANN registrars have, all things considered, been a major beneficiary of the UDRP rules — not because they necessarily agree with the results (they often don't), but because they are not bombarded by expensive lawsuits. Trademark owners benefit also from the (relatively) fast and cheap results obtained by the UDRP.

And yes, I am suggesting a migration from twitter.com/username to username.twitter.com.  Migrations are not that hard — Facebook just did it for over 70 million users when they introduced their "vanity URLs," and our sister company CoCCA just migrated the entire .FM zone onto their platform, seamlessly, over a weekend just two weeks ago.

Antony

Username squatting has been going on for Michele Neylon  –  Sep 21, 2009 5:54 PM PDT

Username squatting has been going on for ages. It's rampant!
Twitter supposedly have policies in place to help people get "their" name, but their support response times are dire (weeks without a reply).

Facebook, on the otherhand, are very responsive and have a relatively sane system in place which allows you to submit proof of entitlement etc., and you can get the entire situation resolved in less than 24 hours, which is pretty good!