ShoeMoney: Why, When & How to Protect Your Brand Online

February 25, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Branding

Rule: People are asshats.

Rhea (lovingly) gives me shit for all the attention I give Twitter. And while I get that my 10,000+ tweets are excessive, Twitter’s pudone a lot to establish my personal brand. A brand that will mean nothing if the asshats don’t get their hands off it. [glare]

It wasn’t too long ago that I found myself getting punched in the face by the likes of Lisa_Barone, _LisaBarone and LisaBarone_ (still not sure about LisaBaron). They were brandjacker Twitter accounts registered to resemble my name (with my branded avatar) and they were being used to shill some sort of crappy Twitter eBook. I didn’t give it much attention when they first broke out, but I should have.

Though only around for a few hours, I felt the damage that accounts like these can create. I was flooded with messages from followers upset with me for spamming them, confused as to why I was creating a new account, and even folks lashing out at me for using tactics I had always blogged out against. All that and it wasn’t even me! That’s when you start to realize that maybe the brand you’ve spent so much time creating isn’t as rock solid as you would have hoped.

It scared me.

As a marketer, I didn’t know how to combat that. So I did what I always do when I don’t know the answer to something. I asked someone smarter than me. I asked Jeremy Schoemaker.

If anyone knows how to deal with brandjackers, it’s Jeremy. Jeremey’s AdSense check picture is perhaps one of the most stolen photos on the Web.  Jeremy was kind enough to humor me with a brief chat on the topic. Here’s what he had to say.

Hey Jeremy. I know you have more experience than most with brandjackers. What kinds of situations have you found yourself in in the past?

Geez, everything, from making fake social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Bebo, Tumbler, Digg) to making blogs impersonating me (blogspot, wordpress or custom). And also people impersonating me in email and blog comments.

Good heavens. Does it worry you that things are becoming more personal, with people going after your face/image, as opposed to just your name?

It more bothers me that it tarnishes my brand that I have worked so hard to build up. My name just happens to be a part of that brand.

In the real world, if someone used your name and photo and tried to impersonate you, that’s identity theft. It’s not quite the same online. Why do you think that is?

Well, as you point out, its basically the same thing. The difference is law enforcement and how ignorant they are about the Internet and tracking someone down. For each instance, we always contact our local FBI office but it rarely goes anywhere with them until we get a civil judgment… then, since we have already done the legwork and laid it out for them, they can go after criminal charges. In the real world it works in reverse. But hopefully that will change.

What should people do when their brand of “you” is attacked? Have you seen complaints from your followers/fans who think you’re part of whatever is being impersonated? How do you combat that or what do you say to them?

People need to register their images with their respective copyright offices.

The benefits are HUGE. Instead of just going after damages you can also go after statutory damages and even attorney fees.

As far as people contacting me about people that are confused when people hijack our brand…. yes and that is the worst part. The image of me with the google check is used quite a bit now to make money with these Google ‘get rich overnight’ scams. Recently I published some info on one of our most recent cases here :

https://www.shoemoney.com/2008/12/26/google-money-tree-scam-hydra-affiliate-network/

But these are popping up all over.

Do you feel like the brand jacking has affected your personal brand?

Absolutely. As you can see in that post about when someone used my image to advertise his crap all over the net, we received a barrage of people who were stunned I would endorse such a crap product. The good thing was people immediately sent screenshots of where they saw the advertisement.

What success have you had seeking restitution?

We have been very fortunate in the last few years and have successfully received a settlement from every infringement we have pursued. In the last 2 years we have received over $65,000 in settlements and we have three ongoing cases right now I expect we should be able to double that amount. Now, keep in mind, that our team of lawyers are expensive and in many cases I just break even money wise. Its more about protecting the brand then trying to turn a profit.

I always start off offering just for the offender to take down the comment. If they refuse then we have to go after them legally to take it down. And that costs money.

Wow. What types of cases are worth pursuing vs something you need to just “suck up” and deal with. Clearly, I’m not going to start suing people pretending to be me on Twitter.

Great question, Lisa! Any time you are being damaged which you can clearly explain in a monetary sense, you should pursue legal action. The instance where someone is using a photo of me and a adsense check for $134,000 and saying “Click here to learn the secret of how I made money” is clearly a huge damage to my brand and I pursue those guns blazing.

Now lets look at the other side. Lots of times people scrape my content from my blog or maybe use the image for non commercial use… even if they use it to make fun of me. While that is a violation there is most likely no damages there and I tend to let those instances go. In the end, they really do not hurt my brand. Even if they talk smack many times they lead more people to my blog and then they become subscribers… so that’s a win ;)

What recommendations do you have for people who have been victim of things like brand jacking or people trying to capitalize?

  1. File a cease and desist letter.
  2. File a DMCA request.

I did a post on this 3 years ago and it has tons of content including a video interview with a foremost expert in the field.

Any general takeaways or advice you’ve gathered from your experiences?

I started drawing the ShoeMoney logo when I was 12 years old. Six years ago I finally was able to form the main company. In that time, we have created six other companies under the ShoeMoney umbrella. I have worked extremely hard to build service-oriented sites that help people and improve their life and I love that my brand is associated with that.

These scumbags that want to latch on to my six years of hard work are pure puke and I go after them with full force. I recommend you do the same if you have built something you believe in and someone is willing to tarnish it to make a quick buck.

Hell, yeah, Jeremy!

Thanks for taking the time to chat and for the amazing info.


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