by Anne Holland, Content Director
If you work for a trademarked brand name, do me a favor and go to YouTube right now and type in your brand name in the search box there. Does anything come up? Is it authorized?
This April first, Randy Cassingham publisher of the hugely popular "weird news" site and ezine ThisIsTrue.com, decided to post his first video on YouTube. However, to his shock and dismay, he couldn't.
At least not under his trademarked brand name.
Turns out the preceding August, a total stranger had registered the YouTube username YouTube.com/ThisIsTrue. Randy wasn't sure if the stranger was an avid fan or a pushy squatter, especially because the stranger never posted any videos under that name. However, Randy did know owning his trademarked name on YouTube would be important for his business. So, he immediately contacted YouTube asking for his trademark to be reassigned to himself as rightful owner.
His request went up the official pipeline, bounced around a bit in the corporate bowels of YouTube/Google, and finally late last week Randy got the official judgment back from his YouTube contact.
In short, the answer was "no."
Here's an excerpt of the legalese Randy received via email from YouTube:
"It is our position that in general use of a string of characters or group of words in a username that happens to be used as a trademark in some market by another party is not infringement. In almost all cases the use is not a commercial use in the meaning of trademark law, and does not cause confusion. Further, to the extent that most trademark claimants have not used their marks in a market or for services overlapping YouTube, the YouTube user has priority regarding that name within our market.
In cases of dispute, as we are not in a position to adjudicate the appropriateness of a user's name selection, we do not disable accounts in response to such allegations. We recommend instead that people pursue any claims they may have directly with the user in question."
I'm no lawyer, but to me this sounds a lot like the arguments Google has used regarding trademark use in AdWords and AdSense advertising, among other things. And frankly, from their perspective this makes a lot of sense.
It probably would be awfully tough to police trademarks in user names; let alone to decide who has the right to use a trademark in which circumstance. Trademark law is knotty stuff.
This morning Randy is contacting his law firm to have them send a cease and desist letter directly to the user who's using his trademarked name. Hopefully that's all it will take, but they'll stand ready with tougher measures if need be. Protecting your intellectual property online is a serious, never ending business.
When Randy contacted me last Friday to tell me about this whole mess, my first action was to ask if I could tell his story to you as a precautionary tale. He graciously agreed.
My second action was to dash off a memo to Sherpa's Web department, asking them to make sure all our brand names and trademarks are registered *by us* on YouTube immediately. We may or may not ever post videos to YouTube, but we certainly don't want someone else taking that option away from us for the MarketingSherpa name.
You might also want to contact your own Web and legal departments right away. Consider taking protective measures for your brand names.
In the meantime, you can watch Randy's first video ThisIsTrue edition on YouTube at
It's a beautiful example of how to transition your text-content into video format. Including, of course, a prominent copyright right at the start. BTW: Randy's main URL is http://www.thisistrue.com