Twitter and similar sites "seizing" well-known user handles

I have noticed that on websites like Twitter, celebrities like Jennifer Lopez (@JLo) and Bill Gates (@BillGates) always seem to be in control of their most obvious Twitter handle.

Jennifer Lopez isn’t forced to post under @JLo1, for example. But surely someone out there thought of taking that name first. Maybe that person was an active user for a time.

Does Twitter simply seize your account and hand it over if the person asking is famous enough? What is the process here? How do you know if you’re famous enough to take someone else’s Twitter handle? What about other sites like YouTube or Instagram?

I don’t know about Twitter, but recently this happened with Instagram and a guy who happened to have the same name as a famous soccer player. Instagram assumed he was a squatter, gave his handle to the player, and later had to apologize and give it back.

If he had been using the name under false pretenses it’s considered a violation of the terms of use, and I guess the soccer player would have gotten to keep the handle

Consumerist article.

In some cases, trademark law can also come into play.

Another case is the dispute between Matthew Lush, who is a vlogger on Youtube, and Lush Cosmetics which is a high street retailer in the UK.

The link is a month old - I’m not sure how the case has developed since then.

I don’t work for Twitter and I don’t know their actual process for transferring control of a Twitter handle but their user agreement is typical of social media websites’ policies. It gives Twitter tremendous control and users little redress if Twitter wants to reassign it.

The agreement says things like:

“[T]he form and nature of the Services that Twitter provides may change from time to time without prior notice to you. In addition, Twitter may stop (permanently or temporarily) providing the Services (or any features within the Services) to you or to users generally and may not be able to provide you with prior notice.”

“We reserve the right at all times (but will not have an obligation) to remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services, to suspend or terminate users, and to reclaim usernames without liability to you.”

“We may suspend or terminate your accounts or cease providing you with all or part of the Services at any time for any or no reason, including, but not limited to, if we reasonably believe: (i) you have violated these Terms or the Twitter Rules, (ii) you create risk or possible legal exposure for us; or (iii) our provision of the Services to you is no longer commercially viable.”

The Twitter rules suggest they will reclaim usernames that are impersonating someone else or violate a trademark:

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

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

On the site, there’s a guy named Will Smith. He has the Twitter handle of @WillSmith. He can get away with it for two reasons: it’s his real name (a very common one), and the famouser Will Smith does not use Twitter. Will anticipates one day having to negotiate some kind of deal when famous-Will does join up, but then again there are many celebs using “4Real…” and suchlike so he may not need to.