Then, there are the fake Twitter accounts like @FakeBrianBrooks (who denied an interview with us) and @FakeBrotherJed, who revealed his true identity to JSB. They’ve graciously provided us with comic relief about the Missouri School of Journalism and life in mid-Missouri.
Yes, they’re entertaining. Yes, they get retweeted like crazy. And yes, they both have a bunch of followers (@FakeBrianBrooks with over 1,200 and @FakeBrotherJed with over 800). But are these Twitter handles legal? We went to everyone’s favorite Comm Law professor Sandy Davidson to get the facts straight. Sandy referred us to the Lanham Act. It’s a federal law regarding misrepresentation. The law is mostly about trademark infringement and false advertising, but at one point it mentions false descriptions regarding cyberpiracy.
It holds a person liable in court if they register, traffic or use a domain name that “is identical or confusingly similar to or dilutive of that mark.” So, there isn’t anything in there specifically regarding Twitter accounts, but Davidson told me, “You’re just applying an old law to a new idea.”
Davidson said if a student created a fake Twitter account that upset a professor, the university or professor could take them to court, but she doesn’t think the university would actually go through with legal action over an upset professor.
Some courtrooms are fine with fake Twitter handles; other aren’t. It all just depends on the situation and how they are interpreting the old law.
Saint Louis Cardinals manager Anthony La Russa sued Twitter in 2009 because of a fake Twitter handle. An unknown person had created the account @TonyLaRussa and posted vulgar updates while pretending to be La Russa. Half an hour after La Russa filed the “cypersquatting” complaint, @TonyLaRussa was removed from the Internet, never to be seen again.
On the Twitter blog, they wrote, “Impersonation violates Twitter’s Terms of Service and we take the issue seriously. We suspend, delete, or transfer control of accounts known to be impersonation. When alerted, we took action in this regard on behalf of St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.”
The best way to keep it legal: put a “fake” in the Twitter handle. You can’t pretend to be Brian Brooks, but you can parody him with Fake Brian Brooks.
Isn’t the law great?