If you have been living under a rock in the past few weeks, then you might have missed one of the biggest kerfuffles in Internet history. Or so it seems.
No, I'm not talking about the contested elections in Iran.
I'm talking about the recent Facebook username frenzy, when Facebook allowed its users to register usernames, making profile addresses shorter and more memorable.
Leading up to it, they used a countdown timer. Brilliant.
Last week, I was watching a movie with my wife Sylvie Fortin. At 12:01 AM, I decided to log onto Facebook using my iPhone, just to see. And wouldn't you know it? I managed to secure Facebook.com/supportibles for me, and Facebook.com/licorice for our fan page.
(Sylvie also captured “sylviefortin” for herself.)
The Licorice Group, LLC is the name of our publishing company, located in Las Vegas, Nevada. Obviously, “michelfortinandsylviefortin” was way too long and would defeat the purpose of getting a shorter mnemonic. So I decided on “licorice.”
Anyway, you might be wondering why I said this was a kerfuffle. Well, hold on tight, because this one is a doozie (and there's a marketing lesson in here, too)…
I couldn't believe it when I saw some marketers who failed to get their very own names because of a few dumbass nitwits, with completely different names, decided it would be cool to register someone else's well-known brand name.
Yes, as marketing experts, our names are brands.
It happened to my friends Ed Dale, John Reese, Darren Rowse, and a slew of others.
Some people call this cybersquatting, which we see often in the domain name space. One jokingly said, “cybersquatting on Facebook is facesquatting!” But I digress…
Needless to say, this irks me. I think it's not only unscrupulous, mean, and dumb, but also I believe that people who do this kind of thing are downright scum.
Some marketers have cried foul. They said, “It's trademark and copyright infringement.” Well, I don't think it's a copyright infringement. It might be a trademark one, although this is somewhat debatable since most names are not registered trademarks.
But registered or not, they are trademarks nonetheless.
Whether or not taking a well-known brand name infringes on another's intellectual property, it can potentially lessen their commercial value, cause irreparable damage, and above all, create confusion in the marketplace…
… The very thing trademarks are meant to avoid in the first place.
Plus, it's wrong. Very wrong.
But the issue I'm mostly upset about is something else — something that actually happened to one of my mentors and favorite experts, Larry Winget.
Larry Winget is a well-known brand. He's an internationally renowned and sought-after speaker and consultant, and the author of many books, CDs, and DVDs, of which I own pretty much everything. Yes, I'm a huge fan.
But Larry encountered a problem that went way beyond simple “facesquatting,” and he blogged about his incredible displeasure and rightful outrage at such a tactic.
However, this seems to have rubbed quite a few people the wrong way. Tons of people commented on his blog. They were either for or against Larry's attempt to publicly denounce this act. And some of the naysayers were very upset with Larry.
I respect other people's opinions. I always love hearing how others see things differently. But on this blog post, some who opposed Larry's “overreaction” went just as overboard.
Some stated that the issue was a small one, and that the person who infringed on Larry's rights meant no harm. It was a small mistake in judgment, albeit a dumb one, but forgivable. And Larry should have been more tolerant.
Say what? Let's take a closer look.
Someone took “larrywinget” as a username on Facebook. I believe — and I'm sure Larry feels the same way, too — that, if the person who took it was indeed called “Larry Winget,” it would have meant nothing to him. But it goes a lot deeper than that.
First of all, his name surely wasn't Larry Winget.
But this is not where the story ends. This person registered Larry's name — get this! — in an attempt to gain Larry's attention, and perhaps affection for being so bold and creative, that he would be allowed to have an audience with Larry.
When I first read that, my head did a double-take. He went on to say that he would be prepared to give Larry back his name, “no questions asked,” and would understand if Larry refused to give him some of his time. (Double-take? Make that a triple.)
There are so many problems with this.
First off, Facebook was very clear that names cannot be transferred. What this person did was absolutely wrong because it pretty much forced Larry into a corner.
But it goes even further than that.
Short of not doing this at all, he should have changed his username, contacted Larry, apologized, and told Larry that, now that the name is available (by his changing it, that is), Larry should be able to change his username and re-capture “larrywinget.”
But he didn't do that. Instead, he closed his account and fled, “like a coward,” says Winget, making any attempt to re-capture this newly released name futile.
So Larry was rightfully offended. On many levels. It's not just about identity theft, which is wrong. It's not just about trying to usurp free consulting, which is even worse.
It's about the tremendous lack of integrity, courtesy, decency, and above all, respect. It's about this person's belief — and the belief of those who commented in support of him — that this is normal, totally acceptable, and completely forgivable.
After all, no malice was intended. Right?
Wrong. It's not only sad, it's downright insulting.
I think it's a sad world when people's sense of entitlement allows them to think they deserve it, they can get away with this stuff, their unethical if not illegal actions are excusable and justified, and these experts are “rich enough” to absorb it.
It's an even sadder world when, while one feels they have the right to do this stuff, the other does not have the right to defend their name and reputation, or feel angry and offended simply because, as some people said, “it's part of doing business.”
You're kidding me, right?
If you think I'm arrogant, think again. I would applaud anyone trying creative ways to get my attention. After all, I'm in marketing and I love learning new ways to gain attention. And believe me, in my 20+ years as a consultant and copywriter, I've seen quite a few.
But at my expense? No way.
So Larry had every right to react the way he did.
The thief, and all of Larry's detractors and the thief's supporters who overreacted just as much, tend to forget the fact that Larry has to spend time to deal with this situation.
He has to take time out of his busy schedule, perhaps time away from working with his paying clients, to fix things and do some damage control. His blog post was part of it.
He had to, in part, to alert his readers, prospects, and followers why they can't find him on Facebook, and why they might see someone else there instead.
Not only that, but Larry also has to absorb pecuniary losses caused by the confusion this has caused, such as the loss of sales and relationships created by the highjacking, as well as the damage to Larry's name, reputation, and commercial value.
So he was justified in publicly voicing his concerns.
Now, to those who feel this was mere petty theft, I have a couple of issues to bring up.
First off, what this person did was more than just petty theft.
He stole Larry's name, and then tried to steal his money by trying to coerce him for some free consulting. Plus, he even lied in his message and, finally, he left and deleted his account, forcing Larry to plead with Facebook and jump through needless hoops.
The first part may seem obvious, but you're probably wondering why I said “he lied.”
You see, this person's reply to Larry, which only occurred after Larry got in contact with him to find out what had happened — makes you wonder if he was going to contact Larry at all in the first place — included this interesting tidbit, edited for brevity:
“If not, I didn’t take your name on facebook to try and extort money from you or get anything else, so I am more than happy to turn the name over to you no questions asked.”
Read that again because it's important.
Some people, quoting this passage, have commented this was evidence that he wasn't trying to steal, squat, or do something malicious. That he had no ill-intent.
Oh, really? Those commentators failed to look at the rest of what he said, if you were to understand his true intent. Because in the previous paragraph, he said…
“I would love the opportunity to meet with you face to face (…) to bounce some ideas and questions off of you.”
I don't know about you, but to me that's a clear and conspicuous attempt at stealing Larry's name in an effort to coerce free consulting from him. Sorry, but that's extortion and it's still wrong, no matter how petty or well-intended it might seem.
So this person not only stole Larry's name, but also attempted to extort from him and lied about it, too. To me, that's a three-striker right there, as in “three strikes and you're out.” Even if each one seemed petty or insignificant, as a whole or individually.
If you, too, think this was merely petty, and that Larry overreacted, then something has certainly gone awry if people think nothing should have been done about it.
For example, just because I wanted to meet with my bank manager when I robbed the bank, even if I had every intention of returning the money, “no questions asked,” it doesn't make it right. Or excusable. Or wrong for wanting to protect one's assets.
In fact, the thief ended his message with:
“If it wasn’t me, it likely would have been someone else.”
It still doesn't make it right!
What gives you the right to rob a bank? And to say, “Better me than someone else?”
I do equate this to stealing from a bank because, to me, it's no different. Sure, there was no violence. Sure, there were no threats. And sure, there was no actual money stolen. But he did try to usurp Larry's name, time, and expertise, let alone his reputation.
I recommended this brilliant video before on the whole idea of “free lunches.” It's from one of my favorite consultants, Perry Marshall, entitled “Those who bite the hand that feeds them, lick the boot that kicks them.” I urge you to go and watch it.
Bottom line, respect goes both ways.
I can't speak for Larry, but something tells me that, if this guy's name was truly Larry Winget, Larry wouldn't care much. I know there are other, well-known people named “Michel Fortin” out there. It wouldn't have bothered me if they captured my name first.
Well, it would, but not that much. After all, it's their name, too.
The problem is, this has nothing to do with taking a username. It's about integrity. It's about doing what is right. It's about respecting Larry, his time, and his name.
If you think Larry went overboard for such a petty thing, I have two things to say:
- When is doing something wrong no longer considered “petty”? Where do you draw the line? It might seem petty, and petty theft may indeed be petty. But it's still theft.
- It's a slippery slope. And if you consider this insignificant, that tells me a lot about how much you value your own name, your time, and yes, your relationships.
Think about that last one.
Anyway, way to go, Larry.
Michel Fortin is a certified digital marketing expert and renowned copywriter who specializes in a unique combination of SEO, CRO, and UX to improve traffic, leads, and revenue for his clients. For the better part of 30 years, he's produced countless wins, generating in excess of $300 million in sales and results that have broken many industry records. He has worked with thousands of businesses ranging from individual entrepreneurs to enterprise-level multinational companies. He's the author of two top-selling books and often speaks at industry events. To connect with him, visit his LinkedIn profile where he is most active.