One Cardinal that doesn’t tweet

Facebook’s new vanity URLs went live tonight this past Sunday morning at 12:01 a.m. EDT, allowing each of the social networking giant’s 200 million active users to reserve username-based URLs for the first time (i.e. http://www.facebook.com/username).  Facebook URLs have traditionally been based on random numbers that are nearly impossible to recall from memory, and Facebook began experimented with the idea of vanity URLs in March, when it gave a few to celebrities and business such as U2, Ashton Kutcher, and Demi Moore. This “new” feature has been the standard for sites like MySpace and Twitter since their inception, and the ability to give friends and fans a custom URL has been of great value to individuals, musicians, and business entities looking to grow awareness of their brands.

The transition to vanity URLs is intended to make it easier for Facebook users to find and connect with each other, but it may also open the floodgates for potential trademark infringers and cybersquatters. The rise of social networking has made the registration of usernames and vanity URLs a gold rush akin to that of domain names in the past. Each new social networking site that pops up is an open landscape for cybersquatters and infringers. In an effort to mitigate these opportunities, Facebook is providing trademark owners with the ability to block URL extensions for registered trademarks before the public can begin registering them later tonight.

Facebook has the advantage of learning from the laissez faire approaches of sites like Twitter, which is currently being sued by St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa for trademark infringement and other infractions related to the site’s alleged failure to take down the account of a La Russa impersonator.  Currently, sites like Twitter and Facebook are protected from being sued for content created and uploaded by their users under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states that providers of an interactive computer service can’t themselves be treated as the publisher or speaker of content users post that is pornographic, defamatory, or otherwise illegal.  La Russa argues that Twitter was complicit in a false endorsement of its service because his impersonator’s account displayed the text “Tony La Russa is now using Twitter” and provided his name, photo, and a link to a website containing his name.

However the case ends up, Twitter is apparently taking a lesson from the experience. The company announced on June 6 that it plans to launch a service to verify accounts and authenticate the identity of select users on the site. The program will start by verifying the accounts of public officials, public agencies, famous artists, athletes, and other well known individuals at risk of impersonation. The company has not detailed how the program will work, and groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation are quick to point out that checking IDs before allowing users to register an account may impair users’ ability to speak as freely as they would anonymously.

The rise of social networking begs an array of legal questions, most of which remain unanswered. What we do know is that it has never been more important to take proper ownership of one’s intellectual property so that it can be protected from those who would pass it off as their own online. If you currently own a registered trademark, be sure to let Facebook know (http://www.facebook.com/help/contact.php?show_form=username_rights ) right away so the site will prevent the registration of your mark as a username.

Daliah Saper of Saper Law

Daliah Saper of Saper Law

Daliah Saper and Shannon Bond
Saper Law Offices LLC

~ by CDLB on June 16, 2009.

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