If so, act now!
For a website that received over 222 million unique visitors in December 2008 (or roughly 55,000 times the usage of Commlawblog), meaning one in every five people who used the Internet that month made a trip to the site), Facebook doesn’t do a great job of getting its own news out. Case in point: the effect on intellectual property rights that occur through the addition of "usernames" that will make it easier to find individual Facebook pages.
Granted, the proposal was announced less than a week before its 12:01 am, June 13 effective date, but most corporate (and many individual) users didn’t take heed of the small notice in the upper corner of each Facebook page. Fewer understood that the new program carries the potential for rampant cybersquatting or how to combat it.
The new "username" capability was introduced to make it easier to find individual users. Prior to June 13, the only way to find a person was to go to www.facebook.com and use the Search function to find a person or entity; despite the existence of various filters to narrow down a search, you’d still often end up with a dreaded "Displaying 1 – 10 out of over 500 results for: xxx".
Now, any individual or company — but not "groups" or "causes" — can, but does not have to, create a username which becomes part of that person’s Facebook URL. What’s the difference? Well, look closely the next time you visit the site (we know you do). If the person you’re stalking — sorry, looking for — doesn’t have a username, his or her personal page will simply be assigned a random number ID and the URL will appear as something like:
Not all that unique or helpful when you’re trying to find someone or go directly to a particular page, is it?
Well, while I was on a cross-country flight the other night, I happened to be surfing the Internet (my review of Virgin America’s in-flight wi-fi is a story for another post) and, lo and behold, was on Facebook right after midnight Saturday morning. So I figured, what the heck, I’ll grab a username.
Now you can find me simply by typing:
That’s a lot more direct, isn’t it? It makes one’s Facebook page much more akin to an actual "home page", especially since I’ve never bothered to register or develop www.kevinmgoldberg.com. It also distinguishes me from "Kevin I. Goldberg", another attorney in the DC area (and even if you have been friends with him for almost 20 years, you’d want to distinguish yourself, too, if he advertised on TV to those who "have been injured in an accident", asking them to call "1-800-HurtNow", but that, too, is a story for another post…).
There are a couple of restrictions:
- In order to register a username, one had to be a registered Facebook user as of 3 pm, EDT on June 9, 2009. This restriction is temporary and will be lifted on June 28, 2009 to allow any registered user to create a username.
- A username must be at least 5 characters long and consist entirely of alphanumeric characters and periods/full stops. This means broadcasters with a Facebook presence will not be able to simply use a four-letter call sign as a username unless the station’s frequency or "AM", "FM" or "TV" were to be included.
But while you can see the benefit of being easier to find, you can see the detriment as well, right? It’s also possible for someone to cybersquat your Facebook page. And the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act and ICANN Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy we’ve discussed in the past — to the extent you wish to invest the time and money to grab your domain name back from a cybersquatter — aren’t really all that helpful, since the trademarks you’re trying to protect really aren’t part of the domain name itself.
That’s why we recommend that businesses who have established a Facebook page go ahead and take the few minutes to create a user name which reflects your most prominent brand or registered trademark — the term that people are most likely to use to find you on Facebook. If you don’t have a Facebook presence, you might want to think about creating one, if only for the purpose of then preserving your desired username for future exclusive use (after all, it’s free and, did we mention that one in five people who used the Internet in December 2008 visited Facebook?). However, since every user can only have one user name, you should, as they say, "choose wisely".
And what happens if someone has already taken your trademark as a user name and you want it back? Well, Facebook claimed to have a system in place through which anyone with a registered trademark could preserve that right by submitting evidence of its rights in the form of the United States Patent and Trademark Office registration number. But that appears to have closed upon the opening of the username creation process on June 13 (again — not the greatest outreach on Facebook’s part).
There is still a relatively simple automated IP Infringement Form that can be used to report infringements on intellectual property. It appears that filing this form is akin to filing a "Notice and Takedown Request" under the DMCA (another topic we’ve covered on Commlawblog) and will result in Facebook providing the allegedly infringing party the opportunity to respond.
Of course, we’re always ready and able to assist you in combatting the scourge of cybersquatting. The only thing that rankles us more than Facebook cybersquatting is Twitter. Not cybersquatting on Twitter, mind you. All of Twitter. But that’s a story for another post…