Trademark Owner Sues Over Alleged Twittersquatting–Coventry First, LLC v. Does

[Post by Venkat Balasubramani]

Coventry First, LLC v. Does, 11-cv-03700-JS (complaint filed June 7, 2011)

The last big tussle over twittersquatting, and infringement through use of a trademark or name in a twitter handle was between Tony La Russa and the person who operated a fake account in La Russa’s name. La Russa sued Twitter but his lawsuit ended in a whimper, when he dropped the complaint. (“This Time, Tony La Russa Drops Twitter Case for Real.”)

A couple of days ago, Coventry First, “a leading company in the life settlement industry” brought suit against unnamed defendants over the @coventryfirst twitter account. It has not named Twitter and looks like it’s going after the person(s) behind the account. You can access a copy of the complaint here, and Exhibit A, which contains a screenshot of the account here. You don’t see many lawsuits of this nature so this one surprised me.

The part that shocked me is that the twitter account was recently established and had 14 tweets and 5 followers at the time the complaint was filed (and now has 3 followers). The account has minimal activity and likely no effect whatsoever on Coventry First’s business and affairs. It probably comes up when you do a search for “Coventry First,” but it doesn’t look like it’s garnered much interest. There’s also no indication from the complaint that Coventry First tried to utilize Twitter’s complaint mechanism or otherwise brought up any issues it had with the person who runs the @coventryfirst Twitter account.

Coventry First’s complaint suffers from many of the failings as La Russa’s or any other complaint against a squatter or infringer on Twitter–there is no indication that the allegedly infringing Twitter account is being used for any commercial purpose. @coventryfirst is not selling or promoting any products or services. It’s tough to see how this can amount to trademark infringement or unfair competition under the Lanham Act. In addition to trademark claims, Coventry First also asserts a claim for unjust enrichment. It’s entirely unclear how anything @coventryfirst does amounts to unjust enrichment. Twitter accounts aren’t exactly moneymakers on their own, and if anything, the person behind @coventryfirst has spent a few hours setting up the account and has generated zero dollars from it.

Coventry First also included a claim under the cybersquatting statute (the ACPA), but the ACPA only applies to second level domain names, and a user-name assigned by Twitter clearly does not fall into this category since Twitter is not a domain name registrar. The ACPA claim is a non-starter. (See Professor Goldman’s post on Goforit v. Digimedia: “Wildcarding Subdomains Is OK; Reverse Domain Name Hijacking Isn’t.”)

This leaves Coventry First’s claim for dilution or tarnishment. To bring a claim for dilution or tarnishment, Coventry First would have to show that its mark is “famous” (and distinctive). I wish them good luck with that.

Unless there’s something that did not make its way into the complaint, this looks like a drastic overreaction on Coventry First’s part. It may or may not result in action being taken by Twitter or by the person behind the @coventryfirst, account, but at first glance, Coventry First’s legal claims do not appear particularly strong.

Added (additional coverage):

Insurer sues Twitter imposter who cheers death, mayhem” (Reuters)

Can a Twitter username be cybersquatting? One insurance company thinks so.” (Domain Name Wire)