A Bizarre Case of Cybersquatting for Taylor Swift (updated)

Fuelled by one of the bizarre cases of Cybersquatting, in the past few weeks the domain name, and more latterly, the entertainment world has been awash with stories concerning US pop sensation, Taylor Swift.  I'm a sort of AC/DC, Pink Floyd and B*witched fan myself so I have to rely on my young daughter for a synopsis of the global phenomenon that the 25 year old has become.  It seems that either Ms Swift intends to rule cyberspace as well as the air waves or she has deep pockets to pay her army of legal advisors who will need to implement her digital intellectual property strategy.

The whole affair started when the chap who apparently taught her how to play the guitar registered the domain name www.ITaughtTaylorSwift.com.  Whether he did or didn't is not the matter being discussed. The fact that he had used the Taylor Swift branding was enough to have her lawyers jump into action, sending the teacher a Cease and Desist letter, highlighting that the domain suggest that “The use of Ms Swift's name suggested sponsorship or endorsement of the website. The Domain Name and the use of the Domain Name are also highly likely to dilute, and to tarnish, the famous Taylor Swift trademark”. The legalities as to whether Taylor Swift (and of course her legal team) have the right to demand the domain be removed is a contentious one.

Whilst the domain name does include the trademark, “Taylor Swift”, it is highly debatable whether there was any bad faith in its registration.  The registrant certainly meant no harm - in fact in a way he was promoting the artist. There is certainly no confusion in terms of the brand's use either.  He may well choose to ignore that letter which would force the lawyers into a difficult decision.  Do they let it pass, do they follow a (now even more) high-profile legal case or offer to buy the registrant out.

Of course, by raising this as an issue, similar domain names were registered within hours.  In response the legal team have been name spinning, trying to beat them at their own game and registering everything from www.ITaughtTaylorSwiftTo to www.ITaughtTaylorSwiftToGiveHead.com in a brand protection strategy that could prove to be incredibly expensive and ultimately more damaging to the brand.

With the launch of the high profile new Top Level Domains, dotAdult and dotPorn it was no surprise that Taylor Swift’s management team sought to secure these names as early as they could in the process, although quite why this was such headline news is beyond me.  Music stars are global brands today, earning revenues that would put most major companies to shame.  Just like the biggest brand holder they need to have an intellectual property strategy in place to deal with infringements as well as serious issues that affect the entertainment industry such as digital piracy.  But we all know that hope is not a strategy.  There are currently over 600 available Top Level Domains - is the plan to register every variant in every single one of these?

Brand protection is not a one-size fits-all approach.  What works for one brand may not be suitable for another.