@towerbridge: a bit more clarity

12 June 2011

Buried, somewhere in the inbox I use for the Tower Bridge account, was an email from Twitter Support. So, let’s get the apology out of the way: Twitter did contact me. It was buried in an old GMail account. And, sure enough, on the first of June, here we go:

Twitter responds to reports from trademark holders regarding the use of trademarks that we determine is misleading or confusing with regard to brand or business affiliation. It has come to our attention that your Twitter account is in violation of Twitter’s trademark policy:

http://support.twitter.com/entries/18367

This account has been suspended.

Let’s see what they have to say at the URL:

Using a company or business name, logo, or other trademark-protected materials in a manner that may mislead or confuse others with regard to its brand or business affiliation may be considered a trademark policy violation.

OK, I can see the reasoning behind that. There’s not much space in the Bio field to explain that it’s not official, but their policy is clear: it doesn’t matter if you were attempting to mislead; if there’s any likelihood of confusion, you’re breaking their rules.

They go on:

  • When there is a clear intent to mislead others through the unauthorized use of a trademark, Twitter will suspend the account and notify the account holder.
  • When we determine that an account appears to be confusing users, but is not purposefully passing itself off as the trademarked good or service, we give the account holder an opportunity to clear up any potential confusion. We may also release a username for the trademark holder’s active use.

OK. So, what they did was the first thing.

There was no intent to mislead. Seriously, what else would you call a bot that did this? I can think of several alternatives, but in 2008, it seemed obvious.

Does it break the current terms of service? Perhaps.

What I’m really, really annoyed by is this: I have not been giving opportunity to clear up the potential confusion. I’ve just had the account suspended, the username taken, and, well, that’s it.

The account didn’t pretend to pass itself off as a trademark, or a registered company, or as anything related to the exhibition that runs within the edifice. If it passed itself of as anything, it was the structure itself. And everybody knows that really, bridges don’t talk, and certainly not that politely. There’s an interesting question – perhaps for a separate, less emotional post – about the relationship between the Instrumented City and the corporations that own the things that are Instrumented – but that’s not for now.

For now: I’m going to pursue this with Twitter, and at least resurrect the bot somewhere. When it comes back, it seems unlikely it’ll be at the original account name.

30 comments on this entry to date.

  • 12 Jun 2011
    AG said... 1

    The only relevant point of law, Tom, is whether the present claimants acted expeditiously to contest your use of @towerbridge.

    If your use of the identity hasn’t materially harmed them — and I can’t see how it has — and they’ve made no good-faith effort over the intervening three years to contact you and notify you of an infringement, my understanding is that you’re looking at a case of trademark abandonment.

    I understand the tempest-in-a-teacup dimension of this, but the facts are on your side. I am of course aware that this is not the relevant jurisdiction, but I believe your claim would be highly likely to prevail in any American court of law, given the present pattern of fact. Twitter might want to consider that before awarding the account willy-nilly to a party whose argument appears to lack a basis in law.

  • 12 Jun 2011
    Dave Nattriss said... 2

    Your bot passed itself off as the bridge structure, yes, and so that was the brand name that it infringed upon. We call the bridge structure ‘Tower Bridge’, not for instance ‘the Tower Bridge Exhibition’ (which is a service/product available on/by the bridge). So of course it pretended to pass itself off as the bridge, whether as a joke or not.

  • 12 Jun 2011
    Dave Nattriss said... 3

    I’m curious as to how you would have ‘cleared up the potential confusion’? A final suicide tweet from the bot confessing that it is in fact not the bridge, nor does it represent it in any official way?

  • 12 Jun 2011
    Tom said... 4

    Dave: right. Except: the complaint of infringement has not come from the edifice; it’s come from the service or product available on the bridge, as you say.

    My point above stands: I would have liked this to have been a conversation, rather than just reaching straight for the TOS. And to be honest: if anyone from the official source had ever got in touch with me about what I was doing, I would have been more than happy to have a conversation with them, too. As it is, this is basically my first contact with anyone related to the place.

  • 12 Jun 2011
    Tom said... 5

    Reading your second post: there’s no need to be an arsehole, Dave. Obvious ways of “clearing up the confusion” – the Terms of Service’s language, not mine – include: a more specific username indicating it’s not real; rewriting the bio to use the words “entirely unofficial” straight off the bat. And, previously, I’ve sent people who asked the bot things directly to the official site, and explained that it’s not in any way official.

  • 12 Jun 2011
    Adam said... 6

    This sort of heavy-handed approach is terrible. While it’s certainly a viable claim by the trademark holders, Twitter certainly should’ve given you a warning period, wherein you could’ve migrated to a new account, and announced it.

    Legal? Sure. Within the TOS? Probably. Good business? Absolutely not.

    Makes me wonder how safe my account is – my account name (my full name) is the same as a TV celebrity’s. I’d certainly hate to wake up one day and find that I Just Don’t Matter As Much, and that everything I’ve ever posted is GONE.

    Heartfelt sympathy, Tom.

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Tom Phillips said... 7

    Okay – I’m nowhere near being a trademark lawyer, but I’m going to give this a shot…

    Trademarks don’t just cover generic uses of a name; they cover the use of a name as relates to the provision of specific goods and services. As far as I can tell from the IPO website, the Tower Bridge Exhibition – the ones who took over the @towerbridge account – hold a trademark on terms including the words “Tower Bridge” in two areas: Nice Classes 41 and 43, “Education; providing of training; entertainment; sporting and cultural activities” and “Services for providing food and drink; temporary accommodation” (which they hold for three terms – “Tower Bridge Exhibition”; “Tower Bridge The Venue”; and “Tower Bridge Events”; all registered in June 2005)

    Tom’s use of the name Tower Bridge, I think, clearly falls under the categories of “Traffic information” and “Transportation information”. These are in Nice Class 39 – a class for which neither Tower Bridge Exhibition, nor any other trademark holder associated with the name Tower Bridge that I can find, hold the trademark.

    As I said, I’m not a trademark lawyer, and I hope never to be one – but while I don’t know how this would have played out in court, I think it’s at least clear that it’s far from the open and shut case that the “you used their name, what did you expect?” crowd would suggest. And that’s before we get onto the fact that it’s also the common name for a public structure that’s been in use for over 130 years.

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Michal Migurski said... 8

    Thinking back to Dopplr, I had two interesting interactions with that service relevant here. One was when I created user accounts for each 2008 U.S. Presidential election candidate, with the intent of keeping them up to date based on a calendar Adrian Holovaty had worked on at the Washington Post – one of the Matts contacted me and asked me to turn off the accounts. Bummer, but understandable. The other is that when you leave Dopply, they ship you a zipped archive of your activity in the service. Twitter should certainly have attempted to act as some form of mediator based on the clear popularity of the original Tower Bridge account instead of simply sending you a form letter, and they should also have automatically generated an archive of your tweets for you or shifted them to a new “formerly known as” account, just so you’re not standing there with nothing.

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Michal Migurski said... 9

    Er, s/Dopply/Dopplr/. They were a few years early for the Libyan domain name craze.

  • 13 Jun 2011
    navi said... 10

    If they’d given you the opportunity to respond, perhaps you could have changed the twitter ID, rather than lose all the tweets. That said the Library of Congress here in the US is keeping an archive of all public tweets…. so there’s that.

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Mazin Fadl said... 11

    In the meantime you should ask Twitter to return your data/account under a different handle, for example ‘towerbridgespeaks’ or something more original :).

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Tom Taylor said... 12

    RE: Trademark infringement, IANAL, but there are a few trademarks for “Tower Bridge” on http://www.ipo.gov.uk/ (link to search doesn’t work) in many different categories: beers and wine, tobacco, and so on, and a few for “Tower Bridge *”, which appears to be the ones in hand.

    Given there are other trademark holders with a lower Levenshtein distance to @towerbridge, why give it them?

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Tom Taylor said... 13

    Oops, didn’t see Tom Phillip’s post – damn your SuperCache Tom!

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Roland Schworz said... 14

    Twitter accounts have their username as a property – i.e. you can change it at any time, and when you do, your tweets, date of joining, etc, remain the same. So it’s possible that the entire account and tweets etc, are in suspended animation somewhere, with either no, or a temporary, username.

    So while – unless the current account owners realise their social media naivety – it’s unlikely you’d get that name back (and also therefore restore the many URLs pointing to its tweets etc), you might still get the same account back under a different name.

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Peter Sjoholm said... 15

    Compare and contrast to what the European Space Agency (ESA) did; http://www.esa.int/esaCP/SEM5I77K56G_index_0.html

  • 13 Jun 2011
    realistic said... 16

    Did you read the T&Cs when you signed up the a/c?

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Alan Henness said... 17

    IANAL either, but I’ve been looking at Trademarks too and found something potentially interesting.

    I posted the following comment on the Londonist Article about this before I found this post:

    You would need to do a thorough search, but I can’t see that “TowerBridge” is a trademark of the owners of Tower Bridge (ie the city of London). A quick search of the Intellectual Property Office’s Trademark Register at ipo.gov.uk, shows that the following are owned by “The Mayor and Commonalty and Citizens of the City”:

    TOWER BRIDGE EXHIBITION
    TOWER BRIDGE THE VENUE
    TOWER BRIDGE EVENTS
    http://www.ipo.gov.uk/t-find-adp?propnum=0868113001

    There are several Registered Trademarks of TOWER BRIDGE owned by companies such as Imperial Tobacco (http://www.ipo.gov.uk/domestic?domesticnum=2454033), an electronics company (http://www.ipo.gov.uk/ohim?ohimnum=E3252351).

    “THE TOWER BRIDGE” is owned by a leather goods manufacturer.

    Ah! This is where it get even more interesting: “THE LONDON BRIDGE TOWER” Trademark is owned by Teighmore (http://www.ipo.gov.uk/domestic?domesticnum=2375568), bizarrely, apparently the owners of The Shard! (http://www.confluencepm.com/projects.aspx?id=1322)

    And according to the Shard website, there is some association with a website called http://www.londonbridgequarter.com/.

    Someone needs to look into this more carefully and thoroughly!

    So it may have nothing to do with Tower Bridge itself, but may have something to do with The Shard and “THE LONDON BRIDGE TOWER”?

  • 13 Jun 2011
    James said... 18

    Hi Tom,

    first I want to say thanks; your bot inspired me to do something similar in the form of Bridget, which scrapes the TBE site and presents lift data in a more human-readable format for phones. It’s a shame we have to scrape the site for publicly available data, and I hope that out of your discussions with TBE you’re able to persuade them to provide the data in a stable open format.

    Second, as I read it, this notification came from twitter two weeks AFTER they’d turned to account over to TBE. Apparently twitter will determine whether there’s “clear intent” or not and suspend on that basis, letting you know at their leisure that they’ve done so. Well, I say twitter will decide, I suspect in this case it was TBE that decided in language that twitter decided not to contest. So while they may be ticking a legal/TOS box, they’re not actually doing very much to permit continuity of service.

    Twitter confuses the hell out of me at times like this. Can the same company really be defending its users’ identities in the Wikileaks affair, and yet throwing them away without so much as a hows-your-father here?

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Erin Maguire said... 19

    Good luck with this Tom, i’d love to see the bot reinstated somehow at a new user ID. Hope @twitter realise their mistake of eliminating a good and much loved bot and offer an olive branch of some kind. Likewise with the ‘land grabbers’ at @towerbridge.

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Sad Dude said... 20

    Wow. This is ugly.
    I know some wonderful people in Trust & Safety (@Safety), Legal, TOS, and @Support, as well as the founders, and original board members. They don’t relish actions like this.

    I feared this bullying would increase as Twitter expanded [their physical] presense into the UK, now pressed by VC’s more than by the founder’s and many team members’ beautiful ideals.

    I have been on Twitter since 2006, and showed your Tower Bridge account to hundreds of friends, socisal media scientists, sociologists, engineers, and most importantly in this discussion, Twitter’s founders and original core
    Team.
    They LOVED, shared, retweedted and celebrated your Bridge’s voice.
    [I admit I'm a right-brainer, but refuse to minimise it as merely "a bot", as the new [boorish] account holder may like to present. There was a human behind it, so I am not anthropomorphizing here. Right engineering includes and becomes original art.

    I showed this account to @Biz, @Goldman (Twitter’s ’4th founder from Odeo), @Ev and @Jack, and the rest years ago and they reacted “This is exactly what we love to see.”
    “It’s amazing what people will create”
    “I show it to new hires at Tea Time”
    “It’s in every slide deck ifor my talks around the world”

    One sure way to appeal to pressured poiticians as you land in ‘their’ city is to be business friendly. (I am a US Capitalist, but not at the expense of such abuse).

    I hope the people of London express to Tower Bridge Exhibitions, that this is a lousy way to act, and a sure way to deter business. The old guard at Twitter HQ would have had more tact and reason, and would have warned them to take another account rather than create a reputation nightmare.
    Brash is as brash does, and sometimes young, aggressive corporate climbers are blinded by the Midas glare.

    @Biz (a good soul) is at Oxford today. Perhaps it’s a good chance to reason with him that the ‘Stanford BD team’ lacks poise and remind him Twitter is not just about ££.

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Guy Parsons said... 21

    A less destructive policy for Twitter would be for them to just rename accounts rather than delete them.

    You can rename any Twitter account – all the existing followers continue to follow it at its new handle. So they could’ve just bumped your account to, e.g, @tafkatowerbridg and at least it would’ve kept working for the existing audience. (While still breaking all the external links to it, I admit.)

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Steve Bennett said... 22

    Tom Phillips said:
    Tom’s use of the name Tower Bridge, I think, clearly falls under the categories of “Traffic information” and “Transportation information”. These are in Nice Class 39 – a class for which neither Tower Bridge Exhibition, nor any other trademark holder associated with the name Tower Bridge that I can find, hold the trademark.

    So… how much does it cost to register a trademark? I’d be willing to donate a couple of quid just for the comedy value. Once you have the trademark in “Nice Class 39″ you could ask for Twitter to give back ‘@TowerBridge’…

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Mat Morrison said... 23

    Interesting one this. I’ve used Twitter’s trademark infringement process for a few clients – mostly (I’m afraid) to get hold of their own dormant accounts.

    It’s interesting that they were able to make the Trademark thing stick; normally one needs to supply a bit of collateral. I’m afraid that all that’s been used to get hold here was the claimant’s email domain (towerbridge.org.uk)

    Possible good news: in disputes of this kind, the claimant needs to set up a new temporary account – the name in dispute is then transferred to the new account. So all the old tweets are (I’d guess) still around somewhere…

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Rhoda said... 24

    I have nothing to add on the trademark or rights issue, I’d just like to say as someone that lives and works on opposite sides of Tower Bridge that little bot was THE most useful thing I ever found on Twitter. In fact, the only useful thing I ever found on Twitter, and I’ve raced past the tourists on the Bridge on many occasions with my advance warning that it was about to close. Sad to see it go.

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Lars Plougmann said... 25

    Tom, I noticed the absence of @towerbridge here in Austin last week. But as of a few minutes ago, I have started receiving news of openings and closings from @towerbridge_. Was that an outcome resulting from contacting Twitter?

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Foomandoonian said... 26

    For some time, I owned @VirginMedia on Twitter. I had this account yanked in exactly the same way when Virgin Media decided they saw the value of Twitter.

    Obviously I was stepping way over the line that you may or may not have crossed, but I was still unimpressed with how Twitter simply handed over a username I had claimed with barely any notice.

  • 13 Jun 2011
    Chris OShea said... 27

    Tom,

    Did they rename it to this? @twrbrdg_itself

    Chris

    p.s @towerbridge give Tom some money, make if an official app of the bridge

  • 15 Jun 2011
    Geoff Jackson said... 28

    What an ongoing debate!

    A much more reasonable solution is for the official company to realise and understand the value, popularity and development that has gone into the bot, and simply recognise/credit the creator and/or ask them to continue running the bot/account whilst they own the rights to the account. Like when CNN acquired @cnnbrk from James Cox but still kept him on board to run the account.

    Trademark infringement is a growing issue on the web especially with the rapidly developing social space.

  • 16 Jun 2011
    Dave Nattriss said... 29

    They reassigned it to @TowerBridge_. Tom then reassigned it to @TwrBrdg_itself.

    Not sure why the people that run Tower Bridge should pay for Tom’s bot – all it does is scrape http://www.towerbridge.org.uk/TBE/EN/BridgeLiftTimes/ and turn it into tweets – i.e. their existing information. Is a fun idea but pretty simple to execute.

  • 22 Jun 2011
    Kiki said... 30

    I think the thing that bothers me is that “if there’s confusion,” then, “the business wins.”

    With 4000 followers when Tower Bridge decides to enter the scene and take away the account, *they* are the cause of confusion — 4000 users worth of confusion when there had been none before. Tower Bridge was the source of the problem, not Tom — so why doesn’t Tom win?

    And then what’s preventing a company from purposely trademarking the name of a popular Twitter account and forcibly acquiring those followers?

My links and notes for this day