Wednesday, June 15, 2011

'Twittersquatter' Sued for Trademark Infringement

Trademark-symboolImage via WikipediaIn Coventry First LLC v. John Does 1-10 (Case No. 2:11-cv-03700), filed this week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, a life settlement industry leader is suing anonymous pranksters who have false-Tweeted messages under the "@coventryfirst" moniker that hope for mass disasters to occur.

As reported by Reuters news service and, Coventry First's complaint includes claims alleging unjust enrichment, trademark dilution, unfair competition, violation of the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act [15 U.S.C. sec. 1125(d)] and trademark infringement under the Lanham Act [15 U.S.C. sec. 1125(a)]. The plaintiff is going after the anonymous posters for approximately 14 offending Tweets.

Coventry First LLC is a player in the life settlement field, in which companies re-sell life insurance policies to investors who pay the premiums and collect the policy proceeds when the insured parties die. The unidentified Tweeters have been sending messages tinged with sarcasm to their approximate 10 followers noting that Coventry and its investor/clients maximize their profits from insured individuals dying before too many premium payments have been made.

Included among the Tweets that have gotten under the skin of the plaintiff are: "Horrible weekend, No plane crashes (they make a lot of money), no earthquakes," and "the faster people die, the more coventry first profits! not even cig companies want their customers to die as fast." 

Among the significant hurdles Coventry First LLC must overcome to prevail are showing that consumers are confused by the faux-Tweets to support its Lanham Act (trademark infringement) claim, a daunting task given the obviously jokey nature of the fake messages.  Also, the anti-cybersquatting statute arguably does not contemplate Twitter user names, but rather, "second level" domain names. Nor is it clear how the plaintiff plans to show the John Does at issue are commercially benefiting from the fake Twitter account.

It will be worth tracking whether this case adds anything to social media jurisprudence or if it just akin to Coventry First yelling out the windows of its corporate headquarters: "Get off of my lawn!"

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