Originally posted on the Broadcast Law Blog.
As you may have heard, Facebook is going to allow users to register names in their Facebook URL, replacing the former random ID numbers. This policy, announced in a Facebook blog post earlier this week will become effective on a first come, first served basis beginning Saturday, June 13 at 12:01 am. This new policy creates the danger that Facebook users may try to register as their user name words or phrases that could infringe on a company name, trademarked slogan, or even a broadcast station's call signs. To prevent others from using your company's name, call sign or other trademark, Facebook has created a form allowing rights holders to register their marks ahead of time. To protect your intellectual property in the easiest manner possible (without the need for costly infringement lawsuits of other actions), companies should take advantage of the procedures outlined by Facebook itself, and register with the company.
A couple of caveats:
- User names have to be at least five alphanumeric characters. This means that four letter call signs cannot be used as user names unless used with a suffix or frequency. Since periods are the only punctuation allowed, acceptable user names might be WXYZ.FM, or FM98.1, for example.
- In order to prevent someone from using your trademark in advance, it appears that it must be a registered mark. However, a separate form appears to allow intellectual property rights holders to reclaim a user name, even if it is not a registered trademark. Thus, if your company name, mark or call sign is unregistered, you can either register it as your own Facebook user name or wait until someone else does that and complain after the fact. You do not need to be a Facebook user to submit the intellectual property rights forms described above.
Broadcasters and other media companies should take steps now to avoid having someone else registering their intellectual property as a Facebook URL. Certainly, if someone is going to exploit your brand on Facebook, it should be you. Act now to avoid more trouble later.