Twitter Usename Room214 Infringes Trademark?

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A twitter user who goes under the username of room214 was recently contacted by a company called Room 214, Inc asking him to give up his twitter account or else they would ‘take it from him’. Can they take any legal action to retrieve the twitter account using trademark law?

First of all, in the US, trademarks law is regulated by the Lanham Act. This act does not only protect registered trademarks, but also unregistered ‘common law’ trademarks. A mark can be protected and will have rights under this act if this mark develops a certain level of ‘distinctiveness’ which makes it qualify for the common law trademark protection. This means that Room 214 can still get protection for its mark regardless of whether it was registered or not, if it can prove that the mark has been associated in the mind of the public with the certain service or product the company sells. This is a question of fact and will depend on the actual reputation the company has.

Now whether the company has a trademark or not, does this protection allow them to stop people from using a twitter account that contains their trademark? It must be noted that a trademark does not grant its own a monopoly over the use of a term, but instead it allows them to stop others from attaching the mark (1) to identical goods services or (2)  similar goods and serives if the public would be confused as to the source of the goods.

It cannot be said that the use of a trademark in a twitter account amounts to the use of a trademark in relation to any goods or services, especially because the user in this case was not using his twitter in the course of a business, and even if he did his will only be infringing if his use was (a) relating to goods and services similar ot those provided by the tradmark owner and (b) the public would be confused as to the source of the goods and services by that use.

Certain trademarks in the US attract special protection against trademark dilution through the Federal Trademark Dilution Act. This protection has a wider scope, but may only be conferred on ‘famous trademarks’ – trademarks which has established a strong connection in the minds of the public between the good or service and the source of that good or service. Examples of such trademarks include Coca Cola and Microsoft. It is extremely unlikely for Room 214, Inc to have such protection as nobody heard about this company.

I would confidently conclude that Room 214 Inc will not have a legal action under trademark law to stop another person from using the term “Room214” as part of their twitter username.

3 thoughts on “Twitter Usename Room214 Infringes Trademark?”

  1. Hello,

    I'm James Clark, co-founder of Room 214, and with great humility, I wanted to state that we have never sought to obtain the twitter.com/room214 Twitter ID.

    Following is a link to my comment post on Digg: http://tinyurl.com/9edx7l

    It was an honest mistake by one of our employees in communication with the owner of the Twitter ID.

    Now, this most certainly brings up an interesting discussion with Twitter IDs, and I would have to agree with your position on the issue. We are most certainly interested in any further findings or discussions that may come up because of this situation.

    With honesty and respect.

    James Clark
    co-founder Room 214
    twitter id: @jamesoclark

  2. James, with all due respect, one of your representatives did seek to obtain the Twitter username via Twitter messages with @room214. Some of the messages that were sent are public record at http://twitter.com/room_214. Your letter on Digg seems more honest. This comment sounds like spin.

    The discussion about who has the right to a username is not limited to Twitter. It extends to all social media. Will social media continue to be social media or will it turn into just another marketing tool? If the marketers take over social media by spamming, simulating relationship-building, and “grabbing” usernames away from individuals, then social media will have been another social experiment that could have been used for the greater good but finally succumbed to pandering to the lowest common denominator thanks to the desperate fight for the almighty [insert appropriate currency here].

    I was very pleased to see the number of people who responded with support and information for @room214. Watching events like this, the Motrin mommy affair, the SoCal fires, and others supports the thesis of Clay Shirky's book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. @room214 commented early in the event that he is a teacher and cannot afford to hire a lawyer to defend his username. He explained in one twitter that he had received a DM that “they [Room214] were being nice, to give it up or they would take it from me.” That's probably where those of us who were following the situation got the impression that a company was trying to “bully” an individual into giving up his username. Whether intentional or not, Room214 intimidated @room214 who asked for help from fellow-tweeters, got it, and took a stand rather than just handing over his username. In the past, fighting an established organization for a username would not have been feasible, given the costs of either hiring legal professionals to research the case or getting enough public awareness to garner support.

    Ultimately, the question about how social media evolves will be answered by how people are willing to support it. If you are using an online tool that has a subscription level and a free level, do you pay for the higher level of service? Which tools are you willing to subscribe to? Will those tools then be put out of the reach of some people, creating different social media classes? Would we all be better off just putting ads on everything? Are you paying attention to what's going on in the monetizing arena? Do you think you have the power or influence to direct the future of social media? If you want companies to determine, the final outcome, then sit back and let it unfold. If you want social media to be a way of empowering individuals, then pay attention, follow the social media leaders (Tim O'Reilly, Clay Shirky, Michael Wesch, to name just a few), and make your voice heard.

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