Identity theft and illegal occupation of user names have increasingly become a common problem for businesses today. As companies live to maintain an online presence, they often become vulnerable to unwanted online behavior, such as spoofing and username theft. Impersonation generally refers to the misuse of a username on social media platforms with the intention of misleading others into believing that the account belongs to someone else (for example, the user registers an account under the name of a celebrity and proceeds to post updates as if he’s that celebrity.) Rather, username theft generally involves pre-emptive registration of a specific username or account, without a genuine intention to use that account, followed by attempts to sell the username to the affected / named party to a inflated price. Another strategy is to divert online traffic that would otherwise have gone to the victim of username theft.
Because there are no uniform legal statutes that address this issue, social media platforms are free to respond to these issues however they want. As such, overcoming these hurdles can often be confusing and time-consuming for businesses that need to retrieve specific usernames or accounts in a timely manner. Most of the major social media platforms provide removal mechanisms and related processes. However, some social media platforms allow parody accounts, making it difficult to delete or recover certain types of these accounts.
If success cannot be achieved directly with the social media platform, the victim may need to consider hiring an attorney to pursue a trademark infringement, unfair competition, online defamation, or related claim against the copycat. One of the quickest ways to get a resolution is to hire an attorney familiar with the in-house attorneys on the social media platform. Often times, a phone call or email can resolve basic issues quickly without the need for litigation. For more complex user name misappropriation and spoofing issues, it may be necessary to file a lawsuit. Texas is one of the few states that allows pre-lawsuit depositions. So instead of filing a costly lawsuit, a victim can file a proceeding to take the deposition of the alleged username / impersonator / usurper. Often the threat of such a procedure or a lawsuit is enough to get quick assistance from the social media platform.
One of the best defenses against username spoofing and squatting is to proactively register social media usernames to prevent spoofing or squatting in the first place. Additionally, internet attorneys can help protect trademarks by implementing procedures to deter unwanted third-party behavior or through litigation, as necessary.