Twitter and Facebook, as well as many other social media networks such as Pinterest, both encourage and endorse reverse social media hijacking. The current trademark policies of these social media networks allow (and encourage) trademark holders to take over social media IDs, whether that ID was originally register in bad faith or not. What is disturbing to me is that the current policies of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media networks are the complete reverse of the established domain name policies of ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) that address Reverse Domain Name Hijacking.
What is Reverse Social Media Hijacking?
Reverse Social Media Hijacking occurs when someone goes to a social media site (such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) and registers an ID, and they have NOT registered that ID “in bad faith”. In other words, they like the name–and they are not attempting to “pretend” in any way that they are someone else and am not trying to act “in behalf of” another company or brand. At a later date, sometime after that person registered the social media ID, a company or individual obtains a trademark on that ID. The trademark holder then would be labeled a “Reverse Social Media Hijacker” if they contact the social media site (e.g., Twitter or Facebook), they claim that they own the trademark on the ID (and they do), and the social media site “hands over” that social media ID to the trademark holder. That, technically, is Reverse Social Media Hijacking. This same process is alive an well in the Domain Name industry (it is called “Reverse Domain Name Hijacking”), and there are policies in place to identify and take care of it. This does not exist in social media.
How Twitter Handles Trademark Issues
The current trademark policy of Twitter allows for trademark holders to acquire the associated Twitter “handle”. In the case of Twitter, a trademark holder can fill out an online form claiming the trademark. Once Twitter verifies the trademark exists, they will turn over the Twitter “handle” or “username”, no questions asked, From what I can tell, at no time does Twitter consider whether or not the username was registered “in bad faith”. Twitter attempts to address this in their Trademark Policy:
What Is not a Trademark Policy Violation?
Using another’s trademark in a way that has nothing to do with the product or service for which the trademark was granted is not a violation of Twitter’s trademark policy.
However, while Twitter’s current trademark policy attempts to address Twitter handles that are being used that have nothing to do with a trademark, I believe more could be done to prevent Reverse Social Media Hijacking. The policy should include the words “bad faith”. At the same time, I have seen plenty of cases where trademark holders have been granted the right to a Twitter username, even though “Reverse Social Media Hijacking” was used to obtain the name. You can read more baout Twitter’s Trademark Policy here: https://support.twitter.com/articles/18367-trademark-policy#
How Facebook Handles Trademark Issues
The current trademark policy of Facebook allows for any trademark holder to acquire the associated Facebook address of Facebook.com/username. In the case of Facebook, just like Twitter, a trademark holder can fill out an online form claiming the trademark–and, once verified, Facebook will delete the content on that associated username–then allowing anyone (presumably the trademark holder) to obtain the Facebook “username”. I have gone through this process myself, and obtained a Facebook ID for a trademark holder, and Facebook never questioned whether or not the original username was registered “in bad faith”. It was simply turned over to the Trademark holder, no questions asked. That’s based on my personal experience.
You can learn more about Facebook’s username policy here: https://www.facebook.com/help/usernames
While Facebook currently has a section of their web site regarding Trademarks and Intellectual Property found here: https://www.facebook.com/help/intellectual_property Facebook’s policy, based on my experience, is that they will simply turn over a username to the Trademark holder, “no questions asked”.
How Reverse Social Media Hijacking is Similar to Reverse Domain Name Hijacking
Let me explain Reverse Social Media Hijacking and how it is so very similar to Reverse Domain Name Hijacking. I have put the following example timeline together, detailed below:
August 2009 – Person A goes to Twitter, registers twitter.com/keyword1
August 2009 – Person A registers Keyword1.com to go along with their Twitter handle, puts up a basic web site on Keyword1.com
September 2009 – Person A starts tweeting on a regular basis using that account. They “brand themself” as Keyword1
January 2010 – Company B starts a new company, names it Keyword1, Inc.
February 2010 – Company B realizes that Keyword1.com is already taken by someone, applies for Trademark on “Keyword1”.
August 2011 – Company B is granted the trademark for “Keyword1”.
October 2011 – Company B contacts owner of Keyword1.com, tells them they own the trademark on “Keyword1” and demands transfer of domain name and Twitter account.
November 2011 – Person A, who owns Keyword1.com and Twitter.com/keyword1, refuses to turn over domain and social media account, knowing they didn’t register “in bad faith”.
December 2011 – Company B files UDRP domain dispute with ICANN, in attempt to obtain Keyword1.com
December 2011 – Company B files trademark dispute with Twitter over Twitter.com/Keyword1 and shows Twitter the trademark number.
January 2012 – Twitter turns over Twitter.com/Keyword1 to Company B.
March 2012 – UDRP domain dispute decision by independent UDRP Panelists. Personal A can keep Keyword1.com, as they didn’t register domain “in bad faith”. UDRP Panelist claims “Reverse Domain Name Hijacking”.
April 2012 – Person A sues Company B in Federal/Civil court, wins $100,000 financial judgement due to “Reverse Domain Name Hijacking”.
April 2012 – Company B, who now “owns” Twitter.com/Keyword1 continues to tweet.
To put it simply, when all is said and done, Person A gets to “keep” Keyword1.com, but they lose Twitter.com/Keyword1 and Facebook.com/Keyword1
What is wrong with the above scenario? The current trademark policies of Twitter and Facebook, as well many other social media web sites, are the complete opposite of the legally binding UDRP decisions and UDRP policy. While the UDRP does not specifically give any financial penalties for “Reverse Domain Name Hijacking”, it all comes down to one fundamental issue: was the name originally registered “in bad faith”?
If a domain name owner did not register a domain name “in bad faith” and can keep a domain name even though someone owns a trademark, then why are the trademark policies of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook the complete opposite of that–it just does not make sense.
As you might recall, I wrote about Reverse Domain Name Hijacking recently in depth, and found that although UDRP reform is needed. If Reverse Domain Name Hijacking occurs and a UDRP is filed, panelists are making decisions that are not in favor of the Reverse Domain Name Hijackers (which is good). In fact, when certain UDRP decisions have been made that cited Reverse Domain Name Hijacking, certain domain name owners have been successful in suing the Reverse Domain Name Hijackers and winning considerable financial judgements.
I am surprised that we generally have no problem with Reverse Social Media Hijacking. While at the same time, Reverse Domain Name Hijacking is, in fact, recognized and punished (although only in federal or civil court, after a UDRP judgement). This is simply a double standard, and Reverse Social Media Hijacking must be stopped.