Twitter Branding and Name Squatting: How I Lost My Username Sapphirecut

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I woke up Monday morning and like any other person, not wanting to get out of bed. Accepting the weekend is over is a tragedy in itself. While still cuddled under the covers, I checked my gmail messages on the Blackberry. Sitting there were two spammy looking messages from Twitter; or supposedly from Twitter. One mail said someone filed a complaint against me for violating Twitter’s terms and conditions, and the other one was even more cryptic because it talked about MY copyright request.

What the hell is going on?! I just lost my @sapphirecut to see some jerk with 4 followers using it and he has no name, description, or information. How does he “own” sapphirecut? This email from Twitter says nothing of the problem. Click on the thumbnail above to see Andr8a’s messages.

Twitter reassigns me a new name automatically. Those guys don’t even bother to ask me for my opinion. Thanks. So they reassign me a new name, @lostinstockholm. Lucky for me, that’s a good name. But how does Twitter know this is a valid name and that I am not violating copyright?

There isn’t. I don’t have a clear way of disputing this except for firing off a nasty comment on the ‘support ticket.’ So I fired off a few comments on the support ticket but here are the interesting bits:
The support ticket was submitted by me on july 12th 5pm local time. How is that possible? 1) I was sleeping; 2) I never submitted a ticket. And within a few hours my name was reassigned? Where’s the due diligence and transparency that I deserve? There’s a lot of talk out there today of people impersonating celebrities (Kanye West), brands (Proctor and Gamble), or copyrighted names (Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker). But how does it work for us plebeians who are neither famous nor are brands? What kinds of rights do we have with Twitter to protect our own aliases.

One thing is clear, I do not mind if there is a rightful brand owner to the name I had. But if Twitter is going to tackle this issue in a spammy, cloaked way, it raises many security and safety issues. This is especially true if Twitter says that I submitted the ticket (while I was sleeping evidently).

After going through this nightmare, how should you protect your name and how do you know your username is in violation of terms and service? How does Twitter assign namesquatters? Was I a name squatter for unknowingly putting two lame nouns together (sapphire + cut)? Or was I in violation of copyright laws?  As it turns, neither except for someone owning a domain to this name.

How to avoid a Twitter alias nightmare:

1. Check copyright. Go to the United States Patent and Trademark Office and type in any name to see if someone owns it.
I typed in sapphirecut, no one owns it. I am not in violation of Trademark laws so according to US law, there’s nothing wrong. Also, brandjacking and brandsquatting are easy to find using this method for companies that clearly must protect brands. For myself, it’s a much more hazy situation. You can read Twitter’s post about Trademark violation here.

2.  Google the name for possible namesquatting. I googled sapphirecut and with my luck, some DJ has this name. But now has the DJ himself actually sought to retrieve their name or is it some other douche? I won’t know and Twitter won’t say. The question is, how does THIS person prove they deserve to own it?

The Twitter answer to name squatting is here. Here’s the summary of it:

Some of the factors that we take into account when determining what conduct is considered to be name squatting are:

* the number of accounts created
* creating accounts for the purpose of preventing others from using those account names
* creating accounts for the purpose of selling those accounts
* using feeds of third-party content to update and maintain accounts under the names of those third parties

Mass account creation and inactive accounts

Mass account creation is a spam violation and is against the Twitter Rules. Accounts created in a serial fashion will be suspended, and user names will no longer be available.
User names for sale

Selling free user names is against the Twitter Rules. If someone has tried to sell you a Twitter user name, please let us know.
News feed accounts

While we welcome news feed accounts for third party content on Twitter, using news feed accounts to hold third party user names is considered squatting. If someone is using a newsfeed to squat on your company’s user name, you may be entitled to that user name; if your case of user name squatting involves impersonation or trademark, please consult those policies.

I’ve still done nothing wrong as this was my personal account.

3.  Don’t take a celebrity name. If you are unlucky, get a new name on Twitter. You may not win this battle.
Take this example: My friend’s name is Steve Martin. If he had a Twitter account in own name, did he violate Twitter’s Terms and Services for impersonating a celebrity?

How will Twitter deal with these problems? And how will Twitter allow common names to be assigned? Like John Smith, Mary James, etc.

4.   Own a domain to help support your Twitter name.
This is just my guess but if you own a domain name and get a Twitter name assigned with the same domain name, you may have some luck keeping it. In my case with @sapphirecut, I didn’t, so I lost it. If you a web designer making sites for clients, maybe have them pick out a Twitter name too. GoDaddy has a new feature to find a domain name and an available Twitter name.

5. Show longstanding support of your own Twitter alias. A lot of speculation here, but if you had a Twitter for a while and have a blog or Myspace account name or other pieces to support the alias, maybe you will be able to keep it. It’s probably a good idea to also update your Twitter account on a regular basis.

Here’s a problem though, Twitter only allows aliases with a maximum of 15 characters. If you have a company name or product that is more, then you will have an issue. How Twitter will deal with this problem is anyone’s guess.

What to do after you lost your Twitter alias and get reassigned:

1. Tell everyone and everyone and everyone. You don’t want people to follow your old alias and have the winner of the battle gain new followers.

2.  If you do believe you have rights to the name, write and complain. Get your papers together. Prepare for war. If you a major corporation, get your lawyers involved, this is no joke. If you a small joe like myself, then find everything you can to support keeping your name.

3.  Change logos, businesscards, and anything else that needs to reflect your new name. After all, if Twittering is a major part of your blog/website or personality, you will need to get new cards printed.

4.   Ask the winner of the Twitter battle to post a tweet to direct followers to the wrong place if people happen to stumble onto your account.  I suppose it’s the one nice thing they can do since they kicked you out of your name.

What Twitter needs to do:

1.  Send clearly worded emails.  The emails I received do not go into detail of my supposed violation.  They also conflict with each other.

2.  Send emails from REAL people. A company sending a email that suspends someone’s account with the address Andr8a does not count as official. It reeks of spam and raises doubts to the veracity of real emails.

3.  Have a way to counter-dispute.  Right now there’s no clear cut policy.

4.  As social media branding avenues like Twitter become a cornerstone to a blended marketing strategy for companies, it is important that Twitter lays out a clear framework to deal with disputes.  The current system, as I now experienced, is inept and confusing to say the least.

Do you have suggestions how individuals should protect their Twitter aliases?  Or how this system can be improved?  Please post a comment.

With that in mind, happy Twittering.

10 thoughts on “Twitter Branding and Name Squatting: How I Lost My Username Sapphirecut”

  1. I wonder if you could get Twitter to kick someone off another account with just the weakest of excuses. I wonder how hard it would be to get Twitter to give me my name.

  2. You should try to get your name and see what happens. The whole system is a mess so who knows what’s to be done.

  3. Sapphirecut: This just sucks. Do not give up your twitter name. There are hundreds of extensions available with Sapphirecut dot. So each person can make a claim to this twett. Also, for trade name registration, it has to be done in each country (may be one for Euro-zone). Has that person registered in Europe? I don’t think Twitter should arbitrarily assign new name to you.

  4. Name squatting is as old as the internet and nothing new. The scary thing here is the speed, automation and dictatorship that the crew at Twitter is showing. No quesitons asked just shutting your name down is brutal. And poor security. Have they run the checks needed to be sure that the other party is not a rascal trying to pull a fast one? I had higher thoughts of Twitter, but now is a good time to consider. Keep us posted how it goes!

  5. Although it sucks, you have made a good post about the happenings, and I can only agree that it all seems very strange indeed. I have tried to secure my nick at as many places as possible, but even so there are still places I probably don’t know of and How in all living things can one be positively sure your not violating anybody else’s copyright? I hope you will inform us if further developments occurs?

  6. @Ravi – Agreed. What if there’s a site, or Or some person named Sapphire Cut. Who gets rights to it?

    @Per Fredrik – The swiftness at which Twitter came down on me is telling. Did they do any research at all? Is this claim even true or did a spammer request it? It’s all quite disturbing.

    @Anders – Thanks! I hope others can learn something. As of yet, I have not heard anything from Twitter regarding my case ticket. But I will definitely post updates to here as I get them.

  7. i always update my Twitter and i love to twitter my daily activities to my friends and loved ones. i also maintain a personal blog for entries which requires more detail.

  8. Twitter is really a good way in keeping yourself updated with the day to day activities of your friends and families members. I update my Twitter and personal blog daily.

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