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Twitter takes Disney handle away from user

Cheri Thomas was an early adopter of Twitter. She’s also a fan of the Walt Disney Company, so when she saw that the @Disney handle was available, she took it, and thousands of Disney fans, myself included, have been jealous ever since.

A few days ago Cheri found out that Twitter had taken that user name away from her:

The twitter rules state:

*Impersonation: You may not impersonate others through the Twitter service in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others

Cheri was not doing that. She was a Disney fan and was using the handle as such.

*Trademark: We reserve the right to reclaim user names on behalf of businesses or individuals that hold legal claim or trademark on those user names. Accounts using business names and/or logos to mislead others will be permanently suspended.

This is where Cheri runs into trouble. But it doesn’t mean that Twitter had to claim the @Disney handle for Disney. Cheri was not using it in any manner that would confuse her with the Walt Disney Company. Her name was on the account, she never acted as if she was a part of the Walt Disney Company or any of it’s facets. She was just on twitter before Disney was and beat the company to it’s own name.

Twitter needs to do the right thing and give Cheri Thomas her Twitter user name back. There is no need to rip it from her when there are countless other Disney accounts that are already owned and used by the Walt Disney Company. They have the ability to communicate as much as they want through those avenues. Cheri only had the one channel, the channel that featured her life and her love of Disney.

I’m going to ask around and see if someone can explain why the username was taken from Cheri and exactly what rights Disney has to their trademark in this situation.

Obviously, in the end Twitter can do what they want. Disney is always an 800lb monster in the corner and you pretty much have to do what they say or be prepared for the consequences. But this is just uncool and the act of a bully.

36 thoughts on “Twitter takes Disney handle away from user”

  1. Sorry, but I disagree — to maintain your trademarks, you specifically have to pursue any infringement of it (aka “police” it), to prevent your trademark from becoming diluted. What happened to Cheri is a good example of an infringement (does Cheri have a trademark for “Disney”? No.) and exactly why Disney requested it to be transferred to them.


    1. Really, policing is necessary to prevent harmful infringement or genericide (think Murphy Bed, escalator, or Xerox – only the latter most able to escape genericide by policing). Policing is not necessary here, as there is no harmful infringement or genericide threat.

      However, ultra-famous brands such as Disney have the ultimate remedy in trademark dilution law, which states the mere fact someone else is using the mark (though, in a way which doesn’t confuse consumers) is enough for infringement.

      This also could be analogous to current trademark-based domain name squatting, which currently lies in favor of the trademark owner in most countries. If you owned, you’d likely have to give that over as well.

      Cheri should have seen this coming. She only has herself to blame for not getting @DisneyFan instead, which would probably still be in her possession.

  2. Trademark requires a use in commerce. This was a personal user name and therefore no need to police it.

  3. Wow! Thank you so much for this write up :) Nicholas, I chose the @disney Twitter name and was not warned about infringement until the day Twitter changed my name. The funny thing is that Twitter kept the name “disney”in my username. Isn’t that still an infringement?

    1. Twitter is the one who added the ___ — I guess it would be up to Disney if they wanted to go after anyone with @Disney_, @Disney__, etc.

      It’s important to note that Twitter specifically allows for this sort of “Trademark Reclaim”, as John noted. This isn’t the first time this has happened.

  4. I can see both sides of this. In the end I understand why Twitter did what they did but it would have been nice if there was some correspondence between the parties so that she at least had a chance to alert her followers of her impending name change.

    The really interesting question it brings up for me is what happens in the case of someone with the same name as the better known copyrighted one. Like what if she was Cheri Disney? Or perhaps Fred McDonald, Wendy Smith, etc.

  5. I completely disagree. Cheri had to have known that eventually Disney would come asking for her username. If she is so appalled by the action, she can just quit. Twitter is a free service and is not guaranteeing anything to Cheri while they provide her this convenience.

    1. Robert, I disagree. Twitter had literally just came out and I chose the name because I like(d) the name. Over the last year, I’d mentioned my username to people and they said I was lucky to have picked the name when I did. Then in January of this year, Twitter changed their rules. Within minutes of receiving the email from Twitter, my @disney name was gone.

      1. You really didn’t think the Disney company would come after you at some point for registering “Disney” as your username?

        Have you read this?

        It doesn’t matter if/when Twitter changed their rules. They can change it without notification. “By continuing to access or use the Services after those revisions become effective, you agree to be bound by the revised Terms.”

  6. I too have to side with Twitter about this. I do feel bad that Cherry lost her username, and maybe it could have been handled differently, but as Nicholas mentioned above, there is alot to be said about keeping your brand clean.

  7. I have to also side with Twitter on this. Twitter, should have had the foresight to reserve the name Disney (and any other large company that wasn’t an early adopter) for those companies in the event the decided to use them. Twitter did the right thing, but they did it the wrong way.

  8. I’m afraid I have to disagree with John also. It’s too bad that she lost her user name but Disney is well within their rights to claim it.

    I don’t think it’s bullying at all. It wasn’t a handle like @Disneyfan or something like that, it was just the plain @Disney, which the company might very well want in the future. Even though she made clear on the page that she is only a fan, the URL crossed a line, and Twitter recognized that.

  9. Robert,

    Cheri did nothing wrong here. Twitter is a private service and can do what it wants, true. But that doesn’t make it right. Disney doesn’t own the word Disney in every single use. Only in commerce related to its business. Last time I checked Twitter is a micro blogging service, not a movie studio or themepark.

  10. While it does look at first like her non-commercial use should prevent her from having the name taken away from her under trademark rules, I think there is a better precedent to compare it to: ICANN rules.

    Under ICANN rules, companies can seize domain names that infringe on their trademarks that are occupied by squatters who can’t prove a competing interest. They own the trademark, therefore they are held to have the right to use it as a domain. Substitute “twitter name” for domain name…even though Julie wasn’t using the trademarked name for commerce, since there can be only one @Disney, she IS preventing Disney from exercising their right to use their trademark on Twitter. So in that sense she was infringing (or limiting, affecting, whatever you want to say) most certainly on their ability to use their trademark.

  11. Why do people keep saying disney took away her name? from what i got from this article, twitter took away cheri’s name. it was a non-commercial use, so she wouldn’t have to worry about copyright infrigement.

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  13. Yeah – I’m kinda on the bandwagon here. Disney retains the rights to any and all terms, photos, images…essentially representations…of their trademark. I’d bet dimes to dollars that Twitter didn’t even catch it until Disney came a-calling. Sorry!

  14. Sorry to say, but I side with Disney on this one. It’s a trademarked name. Cheri could change hers to DisneyCheri or CheriDisney or something similar and still show her love of Disney. Just because she got there first really doesn’t mean much in cyberspace.

  15. Disney has every legal right to get that username. It’s one of the strongest trademarks in the world, and most definitely used in commerce. You’re misinterpreting the use of the phrase “use in commerce.” The use of the trademark/name in commerce is what qualifies it for protection, it does not mean that non-commercial uses are free to use. Otherwise any charity or individual could use “Disney” at will. Cheri has no recourse here, and frankly shouldn’t be surprised. I don’t see Twitter or Disney acting as a bully here. Her tweets may be perfectly innocuous but that name really is quite valuable and Disney is understandably concerned that the use of that name is in align with it’s own standards. I feel like people see these issues and tend to treat it as a David and Goliath situation and automatically root for the little guy, but that’s not really always appropriate. And no, I’m not a Disney attorney.

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  19. Although it seems to have been discussed to death already, I agree that this was a reasonable course of action on twitter’s part. Choosing a name that would obviously link her with the Disney company like that (regardless of the content of her “tweets”) is akin to domain-squatting in my mind, which is an abysmal practice, and I have no sympathy for people that practice it.

    I don’t care if it was made completely clear that there was no affiliation with the company, the username itself implies connection.

  20. John,

    Would you see the problem if, for example, I began Tweeting about Disney as “@johnfrost’, even though I made clear that I wasn’t THE John Frost? Wouldn’t you feel like you’d like to have that name back?

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  22. While I would be upset if it happen to me I can see how it happened. I would have been shocked to get ‘Disney’ in the first place and possibly wondering when someone was going to come around asking for it.

    Cherie, if you don’t like the extra ‘___’ they added to your name you can change your twitter name at anytime by going to your account settings and adding to it or changing it completely. Everything will stay the same except for your twitter name.

    Sorry they took it from you but congrats on getting it in the first place, for that brief time :o).

  23. I think she probably shouldn’t have taken the handle in the first place. Did she think they’d just sit idlely by while she uses a company’s name regardless if she’s impersonating them? I wouldn’t use a company’s name if I knew it was available. Like if google wasn’t taken, I wouldn’t grab it. Why? Because it’s gonna cause confusion later when they DO want one. Why does she have tons of followers? Because everyone thinks she’s the company. They’re a major company that’s she’s a huge fan of. I don’t understand the logic of taking the name just cause she got there first. Though it took twitter long enough to figure she wasn’t Disney. Still, I think she should have saw it coming.

  24. I have to agree with Cheri, i don’t think it is fair at all what Twitter did. It sounds to me like alot of you are kinda jealous that Cheri got to the name first.

  25. I’ve had the @disney name for a little over 3 yrs., so I guess my time is up… I saw this comin about a year in. It’s been a good run and now I can say whatever I want on Twitter.

  26. I started @TMobile_USA as a twitter account that I could assist other TMobile users with their phones and accounts since I was very good at understanding T-Mobile (I worked for them for a while). I claimed that the account was unofficial, but the account itself gained lots of support and saved a bunch of customers from quitting T-Mobile’s service when they were having issues.

    After about 4 months, I had been contacted by T-Mobile corporate telling me that they were aware that I had their account, and asked me if I was willing to give it up. They told me that if I wanted to keep tweeting on it a little longer, I could — but that we both know that its their brand and that I was using their logo.

    They thanked me for the work I did for their account (I did get them 20,000ish followers -if you look at the account, they stopped auto-following everyone who follows them so however many people they are following-).

    I gave them the passwords, and that was the end of my fun. They came to me, tactfully and simply talked the situation over with me. I think that is what Disney should do in this case.

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