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This weekend I spent part of my Friday night at my computer just so I could participate in Facebook’s very own virtual land grab. That is how some have described Facebook’s offering of usernames (also called vanity URLs) that was scheduled to start at 12:01AM EST on June 13. Beginning at that time, established Facebook members could choose a “username” to replace that hard-to-remember string of characters that previously made the URL marking each member’s page unique. Now anyone can have a catchy and aesthetically pleasing URL, like www.facebook.com/jetlblogger. This is supposed to make it easier to find and connect with friends. Businesses and public figures have even more to gain than the typical user by becoming more easily searchable.
The offering appears to have been a success with over 5 million names assigned by the end of the weekend. Many social networking sites, including Twitter and MySpace, already offered this feature. Along with the benefits of this feature come the potential for abuses such as trademark infringement.
Facebook is different than sites that offered this feature in the past. In addition to being the first to create such a spectacle by announcing it and making the offering all at once, it also appears to be working hard to protect the holders of trademarks from infringement in the process. As Jonathan Handel points out, Facebook has provided ways for trademark holders or their attorneys to reserve their trademarks by registering them. Facebook did this in a two-phase approach: pre-land rush, trademark holders had a jump on everyone else by filling out the “Preventing the Registration of a Username” form on their site and, now, trademark holders finding that they were not the first to get to their trademarks can fill out the “Notice of Intellectual Property Infringement (Non-Copyright Claim).” One can only guess how well this system works in practice, but Facebook should be commended for its efforts to aid trademark holders in protecting their marks.
– Hannah Smith
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