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Legal Aspects

Cyber Squatting, Domain Squatting, Typo Squatting – Now Social Squatting? Cyber Squatting, Domain Squatting, Typo Squatting – Now Social Squatting?

As the proliferation of Social Media escalates unabated, brand legal teams are always attempting to close down accounts and user names that harm their brands and/or trademarks via infringement. Protecting your brand on the vast array of social media platforms each with their own policies and procedures is no easy feat.

At a recent International Trademark Association (INTA) event held in San Francisco, there was a clear majority of Intellectual Property attorneys who affirmed that within the past month they sought to shut down a user name that was violating their brand in some way. Most also were unsatisfied with the process of shutting them down.

Protecting your brand on Social Media, as frustrating as it is, is a very important and necessary challenge for brands.

Social squatting has been around for a while and its primary purpose is to divert traffic from a popular and legitimate online entity. The primary feature of such a threat is when someone attempts to impersonate a legitimate brand by registering a username that is viewable by the public.

Let's take a look at some of the reasons why people social squat:

  • The spread and proliferation of false information
  • Attempting to Phish
  • The goal of monetizing legitimate popular brands by hosting ads which profit from the legitimate brand's target. This aspect of infringement differs from those who creates fan pages, so that they can bring visibility to a brand, either good or bad. This is actually a form of expression that is protected by the first amendment. There have been instances of overly aggressive enforcement by IP attorneys to combat this form of squatting and it has led to PR horror stories.

With the sheer number of social media registrants increasing into the billions, it is highly unlikely that this threat to brands via social squatting will ease up in the foreseeable future.

 

Hope is Not Lost

But, hope is not lost and I hope this post will inspire you to create a list of all the social media handles that you would create if you were a squatter. You need to think like these folks to beat them at their own game. Now, go out and claim all of these possible handles and aliases. You know the big ones, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google +, Tumblr and you might think it's gone, but also MySpace.

Even if it isn't a social media platform, you are intent on using, there are others who might see it as a good attempt to hijack your brand. This way, you can protect your brand before someone decides to create a bogus page that degrades your brand's good name and also protect yourself from someone who might be expecting cash to sell it back to you. This last case of having to cough up big bucks to reclaim a user name or page you already are entitled to, is why you should be claiming as many as possible. Being proactive and establishing preventive measures are much more feasible from a cost standpoint. Registering a URL on Facebook or establishing a twitter handle comes at a cost of zero. By taking a reactive approach you might have to fork over big bucks to regain your name from a squatter.

From a  manual  monitoring perspective, smaller brands might find that by using search engines, they can catch brand violators. They can defensively monitor using alerts as well as registering on the social media portals, like I mentioned earlier. A lot of these tactics are reactionary and defensive and by the time something is done, the window to negate the damage has already passed.

So, I ask, is it better to be reactive or proactive? Brands need to implement monitoring policies that work round the clock to catch violator in their tracks. Without it, their brands might just be pushed to the point of no return.

Avoiding Copyright Infringement Avoiding Copyright Infringement
Copyright infringement refers to the use of any work without permission that is protected by copyright law. This act infringes upon the rights that have been granted to the copyright holder and violates them. (more…)
How to Avoid Domain Name Trademark Infringement How to Avoid Domain Name Trademark Infringement
Online trademark infringement is a growing problem and it shows no signs of letting up. More specifically, domain name trademark Infringement is increasing in practice, sometimes by accident, but much of the time, it is done purposefully. At its most basic, selecting a domain name is quite simple. There are a few elements involved in picking yourself or brand a winning domain name and to sum it up, in a few words, your domain name should be:
  • Short
  • Clever
  • Witty
  • Describe your product or service
  • Easy to spell
  • Memorable
  • Easy to Pronounce
 

Risky Business

You are at risk however, if your domain name is in conflict with any of the millions of commercial domain names that are already out there. Putting money and time into the marketing of your brand and its website can spell disaster for your web business if you need to give it up because of online trademark infringement. This is no joke, so you need to do your research.

Trademark Law: The Basics

Trademark law allows you to gain an understanding for what the rules are. This will keep you in the clear of being accused of domain name trademark infringement and will also allow you to see when your brand is being violated. Let's take a look at some of the basics:
  • Names that describe sources of a product or service are trademarks.
  • Legal conflicts between trademarks occur when the use of both of them risks confusion by customers about the source, service or product.
  • A name that is memorable, clever or uniquely suggestive is protected under federal and state law.
  • In event of a conflict, the first user of the trademark is its rightful owner.
  • In case of a legal conflict that is found to exist, the offending user will most likely need to stop using the trademark and have to pay some damages to the rightful owner.
A big part of online trademark infringement arises when there is customer confusion. You stand at risk of losing your domain name, if the rightful owner of a trademark can make the case in court that your domain name makes it likely to cause confusion about the source of the goods or the products' quality.  

Reputation Damage

This can definitely be an issue with all the new gTLDs that are currently being released. Say, a cyber thief wants to drive people to their site. They sell a grill, and want to steal customers away from George Foreman, the former champion boxer, who has sold millions of his grills. You make a website called http://www.georgegrill.com/ and advertise it as the number one place for prices and shipping for Foreman’s grill. What the thief carries however, is some cheap copy from China with a George Foreman grill sticker slapped on it. If caught, this cyber thief is at risk of having everything they worked on, taken away. And for good reason. They are clearly violating trademark law and damaging the stellar reputation of George Foreman's grill by selling a cheap copy.

Research

The right way to choose a domain name that does not offend while satisfying your marketing initiatives is by researching as many trademarks that already exist out there. The last thing you want to sign for is a nasty letter from a corporate lawyer, accusing you of domain trademark infringement. The best place to start for your research is at uspto.gov, the US patent and trademark office. It will give you information for all trademarks that exist and all that are pending.

Brand Protection

Online trademark infringement runs rampant on the Internet, so it is best to protect yourself with some type of brand protection tool. This type of tool monitors the Internet for exactly these types of violations that are out there looking to harm your brand, steal your traffic and cut into your margins. It can also help you in building a solid domain portfolio. So, in this Internet age, trademark infringement in the real world is not only what you need to worry about, in protecting your brand’s good name. Online Trademark Infringement is a whole other animal that needs to be tamed and stopped in its tracks.