Insurer Sues Twitter Phony
By Marius | Published June 10, 2011
In a case that truly represents the duplicitous times we are living in, American life insurance firm Coventry First LLC has filed a lawsuit this week against an anonymous internet critic who periodically sent out fake Twitter messages which parody the insurer and make them appear to root for the death of its policy holders to boost profits amongst other fraudulent claims, Reuters reports.
The case, ‘Coventry First LLC v. Does 1-10,’ was filed on Tuesday in Philadelphia federal court. Coventry First filed the suit against an anonymous Twitter user known as @coventryfirst on allegations of trademark infringement and unfair competition. The insurer is seeking an order to take down the parody Twitter account as well as monetary damages. Coventry First argues that the online account violates its trademark and the numerous ‘tweets’ about the life settlement industry would cause further confusion in the marketplace. Twitter Inc. is not a party to the suit.
The Twitter account in question, @coventryfirst, has a picture of a dollar sign as its avatar and has published 14 posts so far with farcical messages such as “the faster people die the more coventry first profits! not even cig companies want their customers to die as fast. natural disasters are good for business!” and “horrible weekend … no plane crashes (they make a lot of money), no earthquakes.” The posts first began appearing on May 27, the account currently only has three followers.
Coventry First, which describes itself as the creator and leader of the secondary market for US life insurance, said the use of its trademark in such a fashion “tarnishes the reputation” of the entire company, “as it uses the mark in connection with language derogatory to plaintiff and to the life settlement industry generally, and is of a lesser quality than that which consumers expect from statements being made by plaintiff,” the complaint read. (available here)
In addition to scurrilous statements issued on its behalf, Coventry First maintains that the account’s use of its name and the phrase ‘Don’t miss any updates from Coventry First’ further infringes on its trademark, according to a Law360 article. The US insurer is also filing suit for unfair competition, false designation of origin, violations of the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, trademark dilution and unjust enrichment. The company has also issued a subpoena towards Twitter, asking the social media firm to disclose the identity of the account holder.
“Consumers are likely to believe that the site is somehow related to plaintiff, when it is not,” Coventry First added, in reference to the Twitter account.
Parody accounts of companies and public figures have become commonplace on Twitter, and often act in opposition to the reputation of their representative at times of great controversy.
Coventry First’s chances of shutting down the offending Twitter account appears uncertain due to US courts’ obligations to balance the right of brand owners against overall free speech values offered in the First Amendment. The courts will require substantial evidence proving commercial use by @coventryfirst before they will be able to determine if an infringement has occurred. To further prove a trademark claim, Coventry will also have to show that the fake Twitter account is leading to actual confusion in the minds of consumers.
There are currently much greater threats to businesses who wish to operate and maintain a presence on the internet. On Thursday, Citigroup Inc., the third largest US bank, disclosed that computer hackers had acquired limited personal information on about 200,000 credit-card holders, the second announced breach they had suffered this week. The financial institution said it would mail new cards to affected customers.
The attack comes amidst a host of cyber intrusions into predominant multinational companies, including Google, Sony Corp, EMC, Lockeheed Martin and L-3.
Online hackers are fast becoming the greatest threat to business today. As commerce continues to move online, the gap between technological innovation and the ability to protect data offers criminals an opening to launch attacks and steal sensitive industry information.
Security experts revealed that the cyber-attack on Citigroup may be a watershed moment for the US banking industry, which until now had suffered fewer direct hacker attacks than other retailers. This event could ultimately drive momentum for a systemic overhaul of the industry’s existing data security measures.
“We’re getting to the tipping point in terms of the number of fraud cases,” said Gartner Research security analyst Avivah Litan. As industry regulators determine whether to require more spending on network security, “this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” she added.
Insurance Company Mentioned
Coventry First LLC
Founded in 1999, Coventry First is a leading player in the secondary insurance market. The company offers investments in high-premium life insurance policies, written on elderly or wealthy executive individuals looking to sell. In a secondary life insurance transaction the policyholder gets a lump sum, Coventry pays remaining premiums, and when the policy is realized, Coventry receives the payout.