Everybody knows about cybersquatters; those dreaded 'entrepreneurs' who register domain names related to brand names and trademarks that they have no rights to.

ICANN, the organization that oversees the domain name system, provides a dispute mechanism by which trademark owners can dispute a domain name registration and win back domains that infringe upon their rights.

That mechanism makes it relatively easy and cost-effective for trademark owners to get back domains that they have a legitimate claim to.

But as Hunter Walk discusses on his blog, there may be an even uglier problem emerging: username squatting.

On Twitter, for instance, many usernames that are related to major brands and companies are not owned by those brands and companies; they've been registered by other parties unknown for purposes unknown.

For obvious reasons this can be problematic. Brands can find that they've been brandjacked and they can find that their trademarks are being taken on these services to benefit their registrants (e.g. for SEO purposes).

Unlike with domain names, there's often little brands can do. They can complain to the owner of the service and demand that usernames infringing upon their trademarks be turned over but if the owner of the service doesn't take action for whatever reason, the only recourse may be costly litigation.

Making matters worse: since it usually doesn't cost anything to register a username on a popular service, there's no barrier to entry for username squatters, meaning that brands are increasingly going to find that there's always somebody willing to register a brand as a username.

When you consider just how many popular services there are and how many of those services provide vanity URLs based on usernames, you can see the scope of the challenge brands face. It's a real task to keep track of username squatting and even more of a task to register usernames on all of the services out there before the squatters get to them.

Nonetheless, this is something brands do need to deal with, especially on services where brandjacking is a real threat, such as Twitter.

Patricio Robles

Published 23 March, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (2)


Howard Lake

Yes, this is a real problem. I looked at the number of top 20 UK charities by voluntary income who, in September 2008, still hadn't registered their main brand name as a Twitter ID, and shared the findings at our first nfptweetup shortly thereafter. It was alarming, especially given the difficulties so many charities encountered in the 1990s by being slow to secure their domain names. Luckily, a number of charities at the meeting very quickly registered.

Fortunately, now that Twitter has become so high profile, many more charities are at least aware of this issue.

But the issue is far bigger. As well as charities' names, there are other sub-brands such as major fundraising events, there are the initials/acronyms that they are sometimes known by, and there are their old/former names.

Multiply all those variations by the number of major social networks and you do have a real brand management problem.

over 9 years ago


Dominican Republic Villas

We`ve faced that problem before, and many asked for money in exchange for the usernames taken. A new rule can be created like the one for domain names, why not? even so, a database can be created so businesses can be the first ones to register names in any new site, with a timeline.

about 8 years ago

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