It’s a “customer-service nightmare,” says danah boyd, but it’s also the harbinger of something that has the potential to be far nastier:
I threw a public hissy fit when I found out that Tumblr’s customer service had acted on a trademark request from a company called Zephoria who had written them to ask that they release my account to them. (Tumblr has since apologized and given me my identity back.) In some ways, I feel really badly for Tumblr and all other small social media companies because brokering these issues is not easy. In fact, it’s a PITA. Who has the legitimate right to a particular identity or account name? What happens when the account is inactive? Or when the person who has the account is squatting? Or when there are conflicting parties who both have legitimate interests in an account name? Or when the account owner has died?
Trademark law, of course, is an impenetrable thicket in and of itself, and J. Random Blogger, or whoever, is not likely to be able to thread her way through it. And the result is fairly predictable:
There are all sorts of people roaming around the internet, building their reputations and associating them with nicknames, handles, and pseudonyms. They aren’t necessarily building businesses or engaging in commercial acts, but they are building a public reputation no less. And there are also all sorts of companies out there operating as individuals to give their consumers a sense that they are “authentic.” And these two practices are colliding online. When is a Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook/YouTube account an individual? When is it a company? When is it an individual at a company? They’re all meshed into one TYPE: account. So then who has precedence?
Time was, I wrestled with the temptation to register on every new service that pops up, just to reserve the name, or more precisely to keep it out of the hands of Someone Unworthy, lest said someone’s antics tar my reputation. This thinking almost certainly informed my decision to set up my official Backup Blog at WordPress.com. But I eventually figured out that there’s no way I can keep up with everything that comes along, and I really don’t want to go through life with the ™ or worse, the ® affixed to everything I say and everything I do.