It is now a well-established practice for many brand owners to secure registered trade mark protection, at least in their key territories of business. Indeed, it has also become standard practice to register various domain names incorporating those trade marks and/or close variations. However, it is less common for brand owners to register trade marks or company names as so called usernames on social media websites, despite the increasing threat that is posed by failing to do so. Perhaps in time, this will also become standard practice; however, in the meantime, there is a very real prospect of rights being effectively hijacked and, if nothing can be done to stop this, litigation ensuing.
Social media has taken the world by storm and people use it not just as a way of connecting with others and socialising online, but also to interact with brands. Many well-known brands are now found online, particularly by younger consumers, simply by searching on popular social media websites, such as Facebook or Twitter.
The ability to register social media usernames is just one way of making it easier for consumers to access their favourite brands online and connect with them in a way that was not previously possible. However, where there are no doubt opportunities for legitimate brand owners, there are inevitably also opportunities for brands to be effectively hijacked and exploited to the detriment of the reputation of the brand. Last year, The Cambridge Satchel Company had its brand hijacked on over 76 websites which included fake Facebook and Twitter accounts. Nestlé also experienced difficulties attempting to censor Greenpeace’s parody through social media of its KitKat brand. Similarly, Twitter account @ExxonMobilCorp was set up purporting to be the views of an official spokesperson for the oil company Exxon, only for it later to be exposed as a fake.
In the first instance, registered trade mark and domain name protection should always be obtained. However, to protect against brandjacking, brand owners should also be vigilant and are advised to recognise the importance of defensive registrations of social media usernames as part of their comprehensive online brand protection strategy. If you would like to discuss your online brand protection strategy, please give us a call on 0207 288 6003 to talk it over with one of our expert team or to book a free appointment.