Getting A Handle on Twitter
With over 300 million active users,Twitter has become one of the top social media platforms and an important communication tool for individuals and businesses alike. People flock to Twitter to “discover what’s happening in the world right now, to share information instantly, and to connect with people and businesses around the globe”— and all of this in 140 characters or less. Thus, it should come as no surprise to the savvy business owner that being an active member of the Twitter community can be an effective way to not only reach and engage current customers, but also to expand consumer base and drum up new interest. Further, even if your company is not on Twitter, it is safe to assume that consumers may look for you there. So what is a company or business to do when someone is using its registered trademark as his or her Twitter handle (username)?
A few years back, a man name Chase Giunta registered and began using the @chase twitter handle. Not surprisingly, JPMorgan took issue with Mr. Giunta’s choice handle, desiring it for the company’s use. As if missing out on the @chase handle wasn’t bad enough, Mr. Giunta used the banks blue logo as his profile picture and began retweeting negative comments and consumer complaints about the company from his @chase account. While Mr. Giunta’s bio specified that he had no affiliation with Chase Bank or J.P. Morgan, Twitter determined Mr. Giunta’s use had violated Twitter policy, and revoked his handle.
While handles are allocated on a first come first served basis, “using a company or business name, logo, or other trademark-protected materials in a manner that may mislead or confuse others with regard to its brand or business affiliation” may violate Twitter’s trademark policy. Twitter will investigate reports of trademark policy violations from holders of federal or international trademark registrations, and may suspend an account for intentional misuse. Twitter can also reclaim usernames on behalf of business or individuals with valid legal claims to those names, as they did in the case of the @chase handle. If an account appears to be unintentionally confusing users, Twitter allows the account holder a chance to clear up the confusion, including by posting a disclaimer stating that there is no affiliation with the company in their bio.
Twitter does allow for news feeds, commentary, and fan accounts. However, the same rules apply to these accounts—and if the use of a trademark for a fan or a commentary account causes confusion, it is a violation of Twitter’s trademark policy. Further, Twitter ‘s policy specific to parody, commentary and fan accounts requires that the account name should not be the exact name of the account subject, and should be distinguished using “not,” “fake,” or “fan.” Users can also become ‘verified,’ whereby the account will feature a blue check confirming the user is who they claim to be, to help distinguish it from parody accounts or other similar accounts.
If someone has your registered trademark as their Twitter handle, a review of the account should help to determine if their use is likely to cause confusion. Are they tweeting about your business? Does their bio feature a disclaimer? If it seems like consumers could be confused, it may be worth pursuing. While it is against Twitter policy to buy or sell handles, there are a number of options available that can help battle against the misuse of your company’s intellectual property, and ensure consumers are able to find and communicate with your company via Twitter.