If you've been thinking about starting a Twitter account under the pretense of being someone else you might want to think twice if it has anything to do with someone else's intellectual property.
In the past few weeks users, who have been trying their best to emulate characters from AMC's television series Mad Men have apparently had their accounts wiped clear and de-authorized by the microblogging start-up at the request of AMC's lawyers.
That's not the only instance, though.
More troubling is the story of Rich Johnston, a columnist for ComicBookResources.com. Johnston had gotten his hands on an advanced copy of a script for an upcoming graphic novel from publisher Marvel where Twitter was being used by one of the characters. Seeing the username unclaimed Johnston registered it, and began posting messages, essentially creating his own storyline.
Shortly thereafter, his comic-inspired Twitter account was wiped clear. In a response as to why it was no longer there, Johnston said he received a note from a Twitter representative telling him "I'd rather resolve this issue without getting Marvel's legal department involved because we are a very small start-up and lack a legal department."
For his troubles Johnston was given a Twitter T-shirt.
Going forward, the possible lack of a legal team at Twitter may be a more subtle problem than some of the service's growing pains that have affected a larger contingent of users. Say you've created an account using a brand name or posing as a public figure. Without proper protection for users, not only as part of the terms of service but also with people at Twitter willing to lay down the law, you're out of luck if a company decides to draft a takedown notice.
It's also not the first time Twitter's terms of service have gone under the microscope. Back in May, Ariel Waldman, Pownce.com's community manager, had trouble getting Twitter to take action on ongoing harassment. Waldman had jumped through nearly all the hoops usually needed for a company to take action, however, Twitter failed to even issue a warning to the harassing user despite a deluge of message history Waldman had presented.
While Johnston's early crack at the Twitter username might have been ill-willed, you can't fault the guy for thinking ahead--unlike Marvel. In the case of the Mad Men takedown, the real loser is AMC. If anything, the fake accounts were a source of fan enthusiasm that marketers would dream of achieving with cash-infused viral campaigns.
Note: Twitter did not respond to a request for comment on the Marvel matter.