Twitter Squatters Take Over Where Domain Squatters Left Off: Resolution Policy Needed?

from the conflict-resolution-in-140-characters dept

In 1994, reporter Joshua Quittner famously registered the domain name mcdonalds.com, and wrote a whole article about how so many top brand names were available for registering by anyone who wanted them. Reading the article sounds pretty amazing in retrospect. The one and only domain name registrar at the time, InterNIC had a grand total of 2.5 people reviewing each and every application and trying to avoid "obvious" conflicts -- except that didn't seem to work. As Quittner points out, Sprint had registered MCI.com. There was eventually a bit of a battle over mcdonalds.com, and once people finally realized this was a big deal, a process, the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) process was created.

Of course, these days, there are many more ways that your brands interact online than just by your domain name. Erik Heels, an internet-savvy lawyer (and regular Techdirt reader) has gone through Twitter and discovered that of the top 100 global brands, only 7 have their main brand registered as a Twitter ID. Most of the others have Twittersquatters who have already taken the name. Heels, himself, grabbed the Twitter ID for Moet & Chandon and even made it look slightly "real." And, of course, it goes beyond just Twitter as well, where usernames at plenty of other services are increasingly important as well.

Many of these services have ad hoc processes by which they will "resolve" a dispute over a name, but Heels worries about how that will work. In the case of Twitter, basically the company just reserves the right to do what it thinks is right. But, that could obviously lead to some questionable situations -- and eventually even some lawsuits (remember the cease and desist sent by Burger King using Twitter? Why are the fast food burger joints at the center of all of these disputes?). Heels proposes extending the UDRP into a much more complete system for Uniform Username Dispute Resolution Policy or UURP. This way there's a clear process for anyone who disputes the use of a username in any particular service. It certainly seems like an idea worth discussing.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Kris Chrisman, Jan 9th, 2009 @ 7:13pm

    Trademark

    Companies the size you mention have Trademarks, the use of which by anyone other than the holder of the trademark is in violation of established statutes. Seems like a fairly easy remedy to me.

     

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  2.  
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    Erik J. Heels (profile), Jan 9th, 2009 @ 7:16pm

    Twittersquatting

    The Wired article re mcdonalds.com appeared in 1994. The UDRP wasn't enacted until 1999!

    Brandjacking, usernamesquatting, Twittersquatting (whatever you want to call it) is a major problem now. Do we really want to wait 4-5 years for a UURP?

    It's a fixable problem. We should fix it.

     

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  3.  
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    Jesse, Jan 9th, 2009 @ 7:53pm

    If trademark only applies to marks being used in the same area, then how does that work with domain names? Why should monster cable have more right to monster.com than say Monster Mini Golf? Do we just side with the bigger company? If some guy named Something McDonald registers McDonald's, why does he have any less right to it than McDonald's? Whoever has bigger legal muscles wins? Sounds fair.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 9th, 2009 @ 7:53pm

    Re: Trademark

    "Companies the size you mention have Trademarks, the use of which by anyone other than the holder of the trademark is in violation of established statutes. Seems like a fairly easy remedy to me."

    Every new thing - whatever it is must conform to the big megacorp requirements

    I call BS

     

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  5.  
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    Rogers Cadenhead, Jan 9th, 2009 @ 8:59pm

    Site Usernames are Not Domains

    I don't think there's any comparison between a top-level domain name -- a universal means of Internet addressing that's an Internet standard -- and the usernames on a privately owned service like Twitter or Yahoo. Twitter's left no doubt at all that usernames are subject to removal at any time. They invoked it to take @bostonceltics from Steve Poland and give it to the Boston Celtics. Anyone using Twitter should be under no illusion that they own the username the way they could own a domain name.

     

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  6.  
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    Ben Babcock, Jan 9th, 2009 @ 9:25pm

    Re: Site Usernames are Not Domains

    I'm going to have to agree with Rogers here.

    Unlike the domain name system, Twitter usernames are part of the Twitter service, which is owned by a private company. It's up to the company how it operates the service, including how it resolves username disputes.

    Beyond legal obligations, such as trademarks, Twitter can use any method to rule on a username dispute, including a fight to the death or a quest for a golden ring. If a user disagrees with this or any other aspect of the Terms of Service, then he or she should use another service instead.

    I understand why some people would support a movement for a UURP. However, I don't like the implications of such a policy. How could it be enforced? Policies regarding domain names can be enforced because ICANN reigns over the registrars. What body can force a private service to comply save a national legislature? And that's not a universal solution at all. Similarly, if this is just a voluntary policy, it seems rather pointless.

    Is this really even that big a deal? Very few people in the world have a unique name, and I'm sure there's plenty of overlap for corporations as well. Part of the fun on the Internet is creating a good username to fit the identity one wants on a particular service. Sometimes you won't get to use exactly the username you want. If the issue is related to impersonation, defamation, or libel, then it's a legal matter and the service should already have methods in place for addressing those issues.

    I'm not in favour of Twittersquatting. It's as distasteful as domain name squatting. But it's up to Twitter how it wants to deal with this issue.

     

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  7.  
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    ehrichweiss, Jan 9th, 2009 @ 10:12pm

    Re: Twittersquatting

    Care to explain *how* it's fixable? I want you to remember that this is the Internet we're talking about where laws aren't as equally enforced everywhere, AND it's not a crime to have a username that also happens to be a trademark.

    Ok, now explain. I'll wait.

    What you're not seeing is that it's simply going to be a name grab where even a username is somehow intellectual property to these people, especially if that username is a part of the next big shiny thing: domain names, myspace, facebook, twitter, goatse..

    If you try to bring control to that situation in any way other than to take an active, non-litigious approach to learning what's hot and registering accounts on those sites, it will spiral out of control AND come back to haunt you.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 9th, 2009 @ 11:56pm

    The bigger picture here is that the number of such sites (which have username identifies) is increasing rapidly, and in a global network infrastructure it is somewhat absurd to think that my user name 'lordmorgul' (which I have registered on a number of sites) will not have overlap on other sites I do not use. In fact, I have google sending me regular updates on where the username shows up and it does alot where I am not... and that really is not such a common user name.

    If you want all sites to be forced into doing a common, centralized, arbitrated discussion on who should own usernames it would take a bureaucracy the likes of which we have never seen. Once something like this is attempted for even a few of the most popular social networking sites it would become ludicrous.

     

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  9.  
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    lordmorgul, Jan 9th, 2009 @ 11:58pm

    Re: Ahem...

    Even more ludicrous... when I forget to put my username into my comments, to deal with who owns the username the comment wasn't made under!

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2009 @ 4:09am

    Re: Twittersquatting

    Seems that we're again over complicating a simple problem with an easy answer. Perhaps the answer is to think 5 years out, and then register everything you can. But today, companies are so temporal in their thinking, this is impossible.

    So let's take an example from current pop culture. Recently, Burger King came up with an idea of an "Angry Whopper". I only learned about this one night I pulled up to a Burger King, and saw this big ass ad for an "Angry Whopper". Having no frame of reference, I thought aloud "Why the hell do I want an Angry Whopper?"

    My passengers agreed and subsequently, all of us decided to order something else. But the genius in it is that it successfully created buzz. When I look at it from a product development perspective, I actually seeked out ads and twitter feeds about this so called "Angry Whopper" and became interested about what already existed in Google et al, for me. (These guys know their SEO, I thought.)

    Geek aside, I asked if a burger could really be better than me. Admittedly, I've bought a few of these "Angry Whoppers" now, and they are damn tasty. I have even sent a few "angry whopper emails" to people after finding their cleverly hidden website.

    So yes, Twitter and everything else can help, but if you can't figure out what the hell your selling, maybe you need a better ad agency who can create a complete concept of HOW TO SELL IT.

    But because this is TechDirt, and I feel some obligation to some sort Tech geekiness, I look forward to the continuance of that confusing Seinfeld/Gates ads.

     

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  11.  
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    styrafoamkid, Jan 10th, 2009 @ 4:33am

    Don't know if I should laugh or cry

    so if i delete 10 connections on facebook I get a free whopper? who comes up with this stuff?

    http://whoppersacrifice.com/

     

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  12.  
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    Liam, Jan 10th, 2009 @ 4:51am

    It doesn't really matter..

    Twitter is for geeks, mainstream companies don't give a rats ass about it and why should they? It's a social network posting service that in no way correlates with the domain name registry system. Oo.. wow someones registered a username of a big bad company. Who cares.

     

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  13.  
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    blendahtom, Jan 10th, 2009 @ 10:44am

    Duh..

    Guys.. Twitter is very aggressive w/ taking domains away. I squatted on about 15 back in early 07 and have had them pretty much all taken away.. but I did get a tshirt :)

    http://blog.blendah.com/2007/11/hypocriacy-brought-me-out-of-retirement.html

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2009 @ 11:03am

    Lets start with the basic issue of McDonalds. What if the original purchaser of that URL or Twitter had the last name of "McDonalds?" Now it becomes a less easy solution.
    There is though an easy solution, albiet the Big Corps won't like.
    McDonald's does not have the sole exclusive use of the name McDonalds.
    They have the S.E.U. of McDonalds, Inc. or Corp.
    Make business use their whole name if they want to protect it.

    What about Nicknames of companies? Mickey D's. Who has the right to that?

    Its just a pretty stupid argument once you leave the URL's.
    First to purchase gets it. And considering for every 10 sites that you sign up with, how many will actually be around or successful 5 years from now?

     

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  15.  
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    Mike (profile), Jan 10th, 2009 @ 11:18am

    Re: Site Usernames are Not Domains

    Twitter's left no doubt at all that usernames are subject to removal at any time. They invoked it to take @bostonceltics from Steve Poland and give it to the Boston Celtics. Anyone using Twitter should be under no illusion that they own the username the way they could own a domain name.

    Right, that's the point that Erik's making. That the way Twitter deals with those types of situations is going to lead to problems -- so having a set process would be a lot more reasonable.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Mike (profile), Jan 10th, 2009 @ 11:20am

    Re: It doesn't really matter..

    Twitter is for geeks, mainstream companies don't give a rats ass about it and why should they?

    I would suggest that you haven't been paying much attention. Mainstream companies have been incredibly successful on Twitter. Dell made over half a million dollars off a promotion they put on twitter. Comcast has been very successful doing customer service via Twitter. I've had very helpful interactions with two separate companies via Twitter.

    Mainstream companies that are smart do care about it and are doing quite well because of it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Adam, Jan 10th, 2009 @ 10:32pm

    Squitters

     

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  18.  
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    AnonCow, Jan 10th, 2009 @ 11:44pm

    this article is stupid:

    a.) Twitter's 15 minutes of fame is about up b.) it is a private company and could reassign a user name unilaterally.

    think before you blog

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Keral Patel, Jan 11th, 2009 @ 8:02am

    Article is great

    Article is great because on someone else trademark someone else is going to divert lots of visitors to some place else with the help of twitter.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    rec9140, Jan 11th, 2009 @ 10:39am

    First Come First Served

    Plain and simple the first person or entity to register a domain or user name get it! PERIOD. End of the discussion.

    The BS about this or that trademark, or copyright or other IP BS is just that BS! To use the example from the article of mcdonalds.com then dolts at mcdonalds should have registered their domain. Some one else did. TOO BAD! Offer to purchase it. If it turns out you have to pay big $$$ for it, oh well, you had your chance.

    Same goes for all the new TLD's, the whole BS of letting this or that trademark etc. IP crap register ahead of time. BZZT ! This is a FIRST COME FIRST SERVED deal. If I am quick enough to register mcdonlads.newtld before corporate can too bad, go cry to some one who cares. Yes, going to mcdonalds.newtld may not go to where you think it does. Theres a pretty good example in a certain whitehouse dot something domain that has NOTHING to with a certain white house in the district of columbia.

    Billy Bob plumbing doesn't get any special period to register v. any other Billy bob plumbing in the world the other corporate trash should play by the same rules.

    FIRST COME, FIRST SERVED.

    This should apply to domains or user names or any thing else. If I am smart/lucky enough to register thenextbigname.tld then so be it. If some one wants to offer me some $$ for it, great. If not I can pay $9-45/year to keep it.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2009 @ 12:48pm

    Re: First Come First Served

    you sound like every other domain / typo squatter. go ahead- register all the names you want, the internet community has seen through your scam and will give the name to the "rightful" owner and you will get nothing. Unfortunatly it will cost the legitimate owner about 2 to 5 thousand dollars. If it was up to me the looser should pay to resolve these issues.

     

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  22.  
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    rec9140, Jan 11th, 2009 @ 3:37pm

    Re: Re: First Come First Served

    No, I own the domains I want and use.

    The "rightful owner" as you mention is:

    HE WHO REGISTERS FIRST, PERIOD.

    Your argument that because some entity/person holds blipptybloop (tm)(c)(r) or other BS this "entitles" them to blipptybloop.tld

    NO it does NOT. Did some one register it before you? Yes, oh well you pay to transfer the domain to you. Too much? Get something else. I waited several years for some one to loose control of a domain I wanted and then picked it up when it expired. Thats the way the game works, or you can pay to purchase it.

    Just because you have some (tm)(c)(r) doesn't mean you get a free ride. You want to protect your (tm)(c)(r) register that domain or user name first. NO your not going to get first crack at it either! You take you chances to register just like any one else be it Mr. McDonald or mcdonalds inc. or some other guy who gets lucky. NO FAVORS for the big or little guy.

    FIRST COME, FIRST SERVED!

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2009 @ 4:56pm

    Re: Re: Re: First Come First Served

    FIXED YOUR POST.....


    I AM A PARASYTE the domains I REGISTER want and use PRODUCE NOTHING.

    The "rightful owner" as you mention is:

    HE WHO REGISTERS FIRST, PERIOD.

    Who cares if I put porn on the whitehouse.com

    Your argument that because some entity/person holds blipptybloop (tm)(c)(r) or other BS this "entitles" them to blipptybloop.tld

    NO it does NOT. Did some one register it before you? Yes, oh well you pay to transfer the domain to you. Too much? Get something else. I waited several years for some one to loose control of a domain AND JUMPED THEIR CLAIM BECAUSE THEY FORGOT TO RE-REGISTER I wanted and then picked it up when it expired. Thats the way the //game works//, or you can pay to purchase it.
    ITS NOT A GAME SCUMBAG
    Just because you have some (tm)(c)(r) doesn't mean you get a free ride. You want to protect your (tm)(c)(r) register that domain or user name first. NO your not going to get first crack at it either!

    A$$ HOLES LIKE YOU MY ME AND MY CUSTOMERS REGISTER ////EVERY NEW TOP LEVEL DOMAIN/// OUT OF FEAR THAT YOU WILL SELL THE NAME TO A COMPETITOR.

    FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF OFF AND DIE



    You take you chances to register just like any one else be it Mr. McDonald or mcdonalds inc. or some other guy who gets lucky. NO FAVORS for the big or little guy.

    FIRST COME, FIRST SERVED!

    DIE DIE DIE

    YOU PRODUCE NOTHING BUT GRIEF.......

    FIND A REAL JOB

     

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  24.  
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    Baha Men, Jan 11th, 2009 @ 8:10pm

    Who let the 12 year-olds out?

    Seriously, this is distracting.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Rogers Cadenhead, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 3:18pm

    That's Not the Solution

    Right, that's the point that Erik's making. That the way Twitter deals with those types of situations is going to lead to problems -- so having a set process would be a lot more reasonable. The solution is for people too leave Twitter if they don't like how it handles username disputes. Private companies should be as free to police their own user accounts as you're free to police comments. The solution to burden private companies with a UDRP for their own usernames is terrible. And I say that as someone who lost a significant amount of time and money to a UDRP.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Dave Z, Jan 13th, 2009 @ 9:47pm

    Re: First Come First Served

    End of the discussion.

    Unfortunately for you it's not, as seen by various comments here. Not to mention some parties dispute other people's rights every other day, especially when any applicable law exists.

    No doubt some like to think the so-called "rightful owner" is the one who grabbed that item or so first. But none of us get to have our way all the time, and some happen to be in a stronger position to enforce their belief or so-called "right".

    Anyway, Twitter can (almost) easily fix this. That won't necessarily stop someone from suing, even though it's potentially absurd.

     

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  27.  
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    Dave Zan, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 4:12am

    Re: Site Usernames are Not Domains

    Anyone using Twitter should be under no illusion that they own the username the way they could own a domain name.


    Come to think of it, anyone using a domain name should be under no illusion they own it either. ;)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Gary Taylor, Mar 8th, 2009 @ 1:35pm

    No one likes a domain squatter

    Here's the thorn in my side,

    http://www.3ac.co.uk/no-one-likes-a-domain-squatter

    I'm guessing this is exactly the same way a lot of people feel.

    And in response to FIRST COME FIRST SERVED, b*llocks to you!

    Domain squatters and these new twitter squatters are scum of the earth.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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