Cyber Squatting, Domain Squatting, Typo Squatting – Now Social Squatting?

As the proliferation of Social Media escalates unabated, brand legal teams are always attempting to close down accounts and user names that harm their brands and/or trademarks via infringement. Protecting your brand on the vast array of social media platforms each with their own policies and procedures is no easy feat.

At a recent International Trademark Association (INTA) event held in San Francisco, there was a clear majority of Intellectual Property attorneys who affirmed that within the past month they sought to shut down a user name that was violating their brand in some way. Most also were unsatisfied with the process of shutting them down.

Protecting your brand on Social Media, as frustrating as it is, is a very important and necessary challenge for brands.

Social squatting has been around for a while and its primary purpose is to divert traffic from a popular and legitimate online entity. The primary feature of such a threat is when someone attempts to impersonate a legitimate brand by registering a username that is viewable by the public.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why people social squat:

-The spread and proliferation of false information
-Attempting to Phish
-The goal of monetizing legitimate popular brands by hosting ads which profit from the legitimate brand’s target. This aspect of infringement differs from those who creates fan pages, so that they can bring visibility to a brand, either good or bad. This is actually a form of expression that is protected by the first amendment. There have been instances of overly aggressive enforcement by IP attorneys to combat this form of squatting and it has led to PR horror stories.

With the sheer number of social media registrants increasing into the billions, it is highly unlikely that this threat to brands via social squatting will ease up in the foreseeable future.

Hope is Not Lost

But, hope is not lost and I hope this post will inspire you to create a list of all the social media handles that you would create if you were a squatter. You need to think like these folks to beat them at their own game. Now, go out and claim all of these possible handles and aliases. You know the big ones, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google +, Tumblr and you might think it’s gone, but also MySpace.

Even if it isn’t a social media platform, you are intent on using, there are others who might see it as a good attempt to hijack your brand. This way, you can protect your brand before someone decides to create a bogus page that degrades your brand’s good name and also protect yourself from someone who might be expecting cash to sell it back to you. This last case of having to cough up big bucks to reclaim a user name or page you already are entitled to, is why you should be claiming as many as possible. Being proactive and establishing preventive measures are much more feasible from a cost standpoint. Registering a URL on Facebook or establishing a twitter handle comes at a cost of zero. By taking a reactive approach you might have to fork over big bucks to regain your name from a squatter.

From a  manual  monitoring perspective, smaller brands might find that by using search engines, they can catch brand violators. They can defensively monitor using alerts as well as registering on the social media portals, like I mentioned earlier. A lot of these tactics are reactionary and defensive and by the time something is done, the window to negate the damage has already passed.

So, I ask, is it better to be reactive or proactive? Brands need to implement monitoring policies that work round the clock to catch violator in their tracks. Without it, their brands might just be pushed to the point of no return.

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