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That’s Gonna Leave a Mark

Oct 01, 20043 mins
Data and Information Security

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE, founded by well-known pro wrestling promoter Vince McMahon) frequently finds websites and eBay auctions misappropriating WWE trademarks. Sometimes it’s in the form of counterfeit video sales; other times it’s simply the reposting of copyrighted images lifted from WWE’s own site. And then there are plenty of cybersquatters registering websites using WWE’s character names or other copyrighted terms.

“Fans were reporting [so many] abuses on the Internetwe felt there were probably numerous additional cases that we weren’t finding,” says Stacy Papachristos, WWE’s associate counsel for intellectual property. So WWE retained MarkMonitor, one of a growing number of “brand protection services,” to help track down the miscreants. Papachristos receives daily reports from MarkMonitor that provide direct links to potential infringements, plus the offending site owner’s contact information (culled from the Internet’s domain registration database). She searches the reported sites to determine if in fact a copyright or trademark violation has occurred. MarkMonitor not only searches the Web but also collects and analyzes large volumes of spam e-mail, looking for phishing sites (see “Foiling Phishing,” Page 46). Typically, Papachristos simply issues the offender a cease and desist letter. But, she says, “In cases where they’re selling a ton of counterfeit videos, we’ll require damages; if you don’t, I find they’ll just move to another Web address.”

Brand protection service and software providers run the gamut from simple to complex. On the simpler side, for example, PatentWizard’s TrademarkHunter is a software program that searches U.S. federal trademark databases. On the high end, you’ll find companies such as International Risk, which offers overseas piracy investigations, lobbying, supply chain security screening and sting operations. While most of the players are relatively small, trends such as phishing and online auctions are driving rapid growth; that inevitably draws the attention of bigger vendors, and some consolidation of the field is likely.

One of the interesting aspects of brand protection is that today, it brings together corporate functions that might historically have made strange bedfellows. Mark Shull, president and CEO of MarkMonitor, says that even a year ago, legal and marketing were primarily the personnel who worried about brand issues. “But now the scams are coming down the road, and the ability [of criminals] to spoof a site has become problematic,” he says. So now the security department is more frequently involved in the discussion. At WWE, in fact, Papachristos says she gets additional aid from the company’s Consumer Products Group, which at times needs to help determine whether a given DVD is genuine or counterfeit.

Shull, who previously was president and CEO of Internet hosting company Digex, describes this as part of the natural evolution of corporate information security. “It has gone from defending internal systems to defending border systems, and now it’s about the question of how to protect the corporate identity,” he says.

Brand protection services might offer part of the answer.