3. Twitter’s policies

Many of Twitter’s policies address impersonation accounts and such related problems as trademark infringement and username squatting.

Twitter’s Terms of Service prohibit impersonation, which it defines as “pretending to be another person or business as entertainment or in order to deceive.”

birdTwitter allows parody impersonation accounts, but the profile information must make it obvious that the account is fake. Otherwise, it is subject to removal. Consistent with legal statutes and common law, the standard for defining parody is, “would a reasonable person be aware that it’s a joke.” If a Twitter account confuses or misleads others, it may be guilty of impersonation. Non-parody impersonation accounts violate the terms of service and may be permanently suspended. (Impersonation Policy, 2009)

When reporting an impersonation complaint, Twitter asks the complainant whether he’d like to use the Twitter account in question. In the La Russa case, twitter.com/TonyLa Russa still exists, and it appears to have been given to the real La Russa, who has no updates and only seven followers. If you visit other suspended accounts, such as the fake Emily Bazelon, you’ll receive this message: “Sorry, the account you were headed to has been suspended due to strange activity. Mosey along now, nothing to see here.”

Twitter prohibits trademark infringement. A trademark violation is the use of a “company or business name, logo or other trademark-protected materials to mislead others or be used for financial gain.” Twitter’s policies state that accounts with intent to mislead will be immediately suspended, even if there is no trademark infringement. But Twitter also works with account owners to remove infringements so that they can keep their account. For example, Twitter may help a news feed account about a company more clearly show that it is aggregating news about a company, not representing that company. News feed accounts can’t use logos or copyright-protected images and must make it clear that they’re not affiliated with the entity they’re covering. (Trademark Policy, 2009)

Twitter does not have a system for identifying violators of its impersonation and trademark policies. Instead, it responds to complaints from users. Twitter typically takes five days to respond to complaints, but Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has said the company is working to respond within 24 hours. “We don’t have a list of trademark names we’re going through,” said Stone. “It’s more like, let us know.” (Fowler, 2009)

Twitter’s policies also prohibit username squatting or “user name for sale” accounts. Attempting to sell or extort payment for a username will lead to the account being suspended. Currently, Twitter is not releasing these squatter accounts, except in cases of infringement. However, typically infringement has not occurred if the account has no updates or profile image or if there was no intent to mislead. Username squatting can involve creating accounts in order to prevent others from using those accounts names or for the purpose of selling those accounts. Users are also prohibited from using news feed accounts to squat on a company’s username. (Name Squatting Policy, 2009)

Accounts are considered inactive and may be removed if there have been no updates within six months of your last update. “Accounts that have no followers, followings, or updates may be considered squatting accounts and immediately removed from circulation, so do please avoid this if possible!” (Inactive User Names Policy, 2009)

>> 4. Relevant intellectual property laws

©2009 Amy Rainey All Rights Reserved


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