The second lawsuit over Twitter squatting—someone claiming an identity on Twitter that isn’t actually theirs—is already over, a month after it was originally filed and way before the legal battle really got started.
Life Insurance company Coventry First has dropped its lawsuit against the anonymous user behind @CoventryFirst. But why?
(More: Why Google+ Won’t ‘Kill’ Twitter)
As Paul Alan Levy, who represented the anonymous user in the barely-existent lawsuit, explains, CoventryFirst was suing the Twitter user not only because they were using the company’s name, but because they were doing so to create a parodic account criticizing the company’s practices.
Unfortunately, they went around it the wrong way:
“[W]e were aided by a tactical misstep by Coventry First’s counsel at Cozen O’Connor — instead of following the federal rules by filing a motion for leave to take early discovery, the lawyers simply sent a subpoena to Twitter. It is unclear why they took the shortcut, because such motions are filed ex parte and it is only the rare trial judge who looks behind the ex parte motion and requires a showing sufficient to overcome the First Amendment right to speak anonymously. As a practical matter, the First Amendment issues normally come up only if the Doe defendant learns of the ensuing subpoena, finds a lawyer, and files a motion to quash. Twitter is a strong defender of Does’ right to notice, even in criminal cases when under strong pressure from the prosecution not to give notice — as Wired put it, Twitter has ‘show[n] guts and principles’ on this issue. So, having taken the shortcut, once the Doe found counsel, Coventry First faced a significant risk of discovery sanctions; it then had to weigh that risk in deciding whether to persist with litigation over the interesting issue of whether the many cases authorizing the use of trademarks in the domain names, titles and meta tags of non-commercial commentary web sites apply equally to Twitter account names. Our motion to quash was to be filed this morning; late yesterday afternoon Coventry First dismissed its lawsuit.”
It’s not only the increased legal hassle that likely dissuaded Coventry First from continuing with the legal action. Not only had @CoventryFirst already changed its name to @CoventryFirstIn (“In” for “Insurance”) so as to not fall foul of Twitter’s internal rules regarding parody, but the lawsuit was bringing more attention to the parody account than it had gained by itself; only 16 people are following the account, and only 33 tweets have been posted.
When your attempts to shut something down make more people aware of it than they would have been otherwise, it’s probably a good time to reconsider your options.
Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.