Can Usernames Violate Trademark Law?

from the fun-with-over-anxious-lawyers dept

Aviran writes “I found this via got a legal threat this morning from because a user on their forum chose ‘FamilyPants’ as their username. They’re upset because Google (and only Google) puts the user’s profile on the first page of results for “familypants”.” A lot of the comments on Digg and the original post seem to confuse trademark and copyright law, but it’s quite hard to see how this is a violation of trademark law. We’ve said it over and over again, but a trademark does not grant you full control over the trademark. It just lets you prevent others from using it in ways that are likely to be confusing. A user in a forum discussion is quite unlikely to confuse people — though, it may depend on what the person is saying. If that user is constantly making statements to suggest that he or she is associated with the entity that owns the trademark, then they would actually have a claim. However, from what’s been said, it doesn’t sound like that’s true at all. Instead, it sounds like someone’s upset about someone else’s Google rank.

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Comments on “Can Usernames Violate Trademark Law?”

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Mikester says:

Database of trademarks

So what do they expect? Forum admins to deny the creation of any username that contains a trademarked word or phrase? Highly unlikely.
If this gets before a judge, I would hope he or she sees how ridiculous this request is. Otherwise, anyone who runs a forum or site that registers users will have to check each name against a database of trademarks to make sure every user is not infringing.

No, I think the real story here is that someone has a bad case of Google-rank envy, plain and simple. (user link) says:

Re: Re: "because I didnt think of it first" envy

If wants to make such a big deal about this, how about they also go after the person with the name of “” (or even Microsoft for allowing it) or “” (since it’s also on Google’s netowrk)…etc, etc.
(or even “”)

by the way, that the hell is a FamilyPants anyway?

Ben McNelly (user link) says:


wups, disregard that last post. Doh!

So, I know how greedy people can be about thier google ranking, but this is rediculus. You mean I cannot be “mcdonalds” in all those forums I am in?

What about my other nick, “Big mack”?!?!?

Sheere, nerd-anarchy…. I hope they at least boost the forums ranking with all tis press. 😛

Luke (user link) says:


Well, I was going to say something funny, but my name’s Luke and my last initial is an “S” so I go by Luke S. a lot…could that be used as confusion towards making myself out to be Luke Skywalker? (Probably not, but it suddenly occured to me as I was typing.)

My original thought:

What if my last name was Comfort. And let’s say my conception had a little help from a whisky and to remember that my parents made my first name Southern. So my parents name me: Southern Comfort – could problems arise? (I heard a story about some locals doing something very similar, but I think it was Jack Daniel Brewer or something – you get the idea.)

Bandito says:

City of Heroes

In this MMOG where you create a super-powered persona, the publisher (NCSoft) was sued by Marvel because you could make a character that resembled (and was named) Wolverine or other Marvel characters. To settle this lawsuit, NCSoft has taken to renaming characters in game whos name even closely resembles a “trademarked” name to Generic#####. Obviously then, a precedent has been set (however ridiculous that precedent may be).

Wolverine says:

Re: City of Heroes

Well in this vase there technically is copyright infringement. Since they are not only using the name but likeness. I am a huge COH fanboy and I hate that marvel did that to their own fans but they are coprorate bloodsucking parasites like the rest of big businesses. I’m sure this crap will get thrown out of court if not I’m going to do the reverse and sue some companies that use my standard forum name. Maybe I can get rich and become a blood sucker too!

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