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The legal departments of large-scale social networks (Twitter, Instragram, etc.) are regularly abused by scammers willing to do anything to retrieve usernames / network accounts with high potential in order to resell them.

Usernames, that have been long neglected, are becoming real distinctive signs due to the new digital practices. This craze is unfortunately accompanied by fraudulent practices motivated by greed, (which can be high)!

The online magazine, Vice, has just posted an article on this lucrative and illegal business.

Username, new domain name?

On social networks, usernames allows to identify an account, and, by extension, a person, a company or a trademark.

In this regard, the similarity with domain names is striking:

  • Usernames are to social networks what domain names are to the web: a virtual sign
  • Usernames, such as domain names, are subject to the first-come, first-served principle
  • Reserving takes only a few minutes, without publicity procedure and therefore without opposition?

Obtaining a username is free and is not time limited, the only limit is the sustainability of the platform. Moreover, their assignment is usually forbidden.

With the new technological uses - e.g. the increasing part of smartphones / applications in Internet use and hyperconnection of young people - social networks are gradually becoming an essential passage for trademarks: presence, proximity, interaction, targeted marketing operations, etc.…:

Short usernames and generic terms are mostly sought-after, sometimes to the detriment of trademarks. The rarity of short account names generates great value for already reserved names.

Protective steps for holders of hijacked trademarks

The recovery system implemented paradoxically relies on processes created to protect right holders, namely, requests for rights to a name, whether that name is a trademark or a company name. This process is similar to the Reverse Domain Name Hijacking (RDNH) used for domain names and UDRP procedures.

Indeed, scammers, holding a true trademark filing or registration of homonymous companies, manage to convince legal departments that they are the legitimate right owners of such names and can thus retrieve the management of eponymous accounts.

The practise is known as trademarking within the reseller community.

A lucrative second market of usernames  … that is fully illegal.

Even though the terms and conditions of use of these different platforms prohibit the assignment of usernames, it is obvious that a very profitable parallel market exists. Several forums are specialised in purchasing and selling usernames. Prices range from a few tens to several thousand euros depending on the potential value of the username:

How to protect yourself?

If you already have an account on one of these platforms it is important, like for a domain name, to ensure its legal and technical security: is it registered in the name of my company and not of a service provider, which email address is filled in, is the double authentication activated, under which number ?, etc.…

If you do not have an account on these networks yet, and depending on the consistency with your project, it is interesting to check their availability and, if necessary, to proceed to the necessary reservations.

For a few years now, usernames have been walking in the footsteps of domain names. It could later constitute a prior right.

With the significant development of these networks and the evolution of uses, their importance should not be underestimated before it might be too late.

Our firm can assist you on these issues in compliance with your IP strategy. Please do not hesitate to contact us so that we may review your assets together.

The author

Gaël Mancec | NTIC Attorney
Germain Maureau
+ 33 (0) 4 72 69 84 30


Download the .pdf version of this article :  Usernamesv-en-pdf

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