4. Relevant intellectual property laws

Several intellectual property laws come into play with fake Twitter accounts.

A trademark is a distinctive mark or sign used by an individual, business or other entity to identify its products and services and distinguish itself from others. Names, words, phrases, logos, symbols and designs are examples of elements that can be trademarked. Imposter Twitter accounts may violate a company or person’s trademark. (“Trademark,” 2009) The La Russa case alleged trademark infringement because the impersonator’s account displayed La Russa’s name, photos and a Web address containing his name, implying a false endorsement of Twitter. (Moshirnia, 2009)

Imposter Twitter accounts may also violate personality rights, which are the “right of an individual to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, likeness or other unequivocal aspects of one’s identity.” (“Personality rights,” 2009)

La Russa’s lawsuit also alleged cybersquatting. Prohibited by the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act in 1999, cybersquatting is “registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name with bad faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else. The cybersquatter then offers to sell the domain to the person or company who owns a trademark contained within the name at an inflated price.” (“Cybersquatting,” 2009) It’s not yet entirely clear how cybersquatting laws apply to Twitter, though Twitter’s policies prohibit username squatting. There is a dispute resolution process (ICANN) for domain names, but no such dispute system exists for Facebook and Twitter URLs.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects Internet Service Providers by stating that they cannot be treated as the publisher or speaker of the content that users post. Section 230 has successfully upheld the immunity of Craigslist, AOL and MySpace in past cases. However, Section 230 does not limit intellectual property laws and would not have impacted La Russa’s claims of trademark infringement and cybersquatting. (Moshirnia, 2009)

>> 5. Twitter’s reaction and future plans

©2009 Amy Rainey All Rights Reserved


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