Recently there has been a buzz about a streamer who, due to the popularity of one of the controversial series, at one point actually lost all her online legacy. That victim is Lydia “SquidGame” Ellery, who for 11 years functioned in the network under her own nickname. The case is even more controversial. The idea for the nickname was created many years before the series started production. So can our nickname become banned? Do we have any rights to it at all? We invite you to learn more about the issue of the right to a nickname.
Nickname as a pseudonym
From the legal point of view, the nickname can be treated as a kind of pseudonym. It is assumed that the pseudonym is a personal good. It can be used as an obscuring mark, if the law does not require disclosure of the name and surname. From a legal point of view, a nickname is an online form of a pseudonym. Everyone whose personal good is violated can claim for its protection.
A nickname infringement can consist in using the same nickname that another person has chosen. It would certainly be an infringement of personal rights to use the same nickname in the same game. Due to the algorithm this is rather unlikely. Of course, we are not talking about identity theft as it is a separate issue.
Similarly, the use of a confusingly similar nickname may be a violation of personal rights. Will every similarity be a violation of personal rights? Probably not. It may be important to recognize the person or the uniqueness of the nickname. It’s hard to say that the nicknames John2 and John3 are distinctive enough to be considered impersonation. It is similar with popular first and last names.
Using a well-known and recognizable nickname of a player in another game or on a streaming platform could also be a violation of personal rights.
It may also be unlawful to tag a person with a nickname outside the scope of situations in which he or she wishes to use it. It would therefore be unacceptable, for example, to use someone’s pseudonym at work if one wishes to separate one’s online activities from other aspects of one’s life. This was originally the purpose of the pseudonym, which was often to conceal a person’s identity or at least to cut off various areas of their activity.
Reaping the benefits
One way to benefit from one’s popularity is, of course, to make money from it. A person who uses a nickname can also use it for marketing purposes. It can be for example promoting goods under their brand name. In the same way as an image, you can allow someone to use your nickname in advertisements. This is why protecting your nickname has a measurable impact. In addition to popularity and reach, the use of the same name over and over again allows you to earn more and more money.
Can you protect it?
A pseudonym is protected like any other personal property. Therefore, a person who illegally uses someone else’s nickname will have to reckon with the consequences. First and foremost, the user can demand that the infringement ceases, i.e. that the use of the pseudonym ceases. In addition, she can demand compensation for material damages, i.e. the equivalent of what she has lost.
Infringement of personal rights can also consist of slandering someone, for example by spreading false information. In such a case, the owner of the nickname may also demand to stop the unlawful actions, as well as pay compensation. In order to protect a good name, it’s important that third parties have an opinion about the person in question. Therefore, it’s not possible to infringe the good name of a user of an Internet forum who uses only a nickname that does not allow for hi identification. A nickname must therefore be a distinctive feature, and not just a group of characters designed to prevent identification.
The right to a nickname versus the right to use it on a particular platform
It is one thing to have the right to protect your nickname. Whether you can use it everywhere is another matter. This will be determined primarily by the rules of the specific portal, platform, or game. Usually, the terms and conditions clearly state which words cannot be used as a nickname. The right to protect your nickname is one thing, and the ability to use it in any situation is another. If a site or organizer does not allow a certain nickname, you will most likely not be able to claim it.
Another issue is the use of a player’s nickname by another user. This can be considered a form of infringement of personal rights, in which case the player can demand that the person using the nickname unlawfully delete his account or change his nick. In such a situation, however, all claims should be directed to the player, not the administrator.
Another option is to delete the account already in use. In this case, the terms and conditions of the respective platform will be decisive. If the terms and conditions provide for the possibility of suspending or blocking the account for a specific reason, the user will not be entitled to any claims, even if they have suffered a great deal of damage because of this. Only loopholes in the rules can help. Usually though administrators have very broad powers to suspend or block accounts.
In the case of the above mentioned user, the reason for the account suspension certainly occurred through no fault of her and independently of her, and in addition, many years after the account was created. From this point of view the actions of the service may seem unfair. On the other hand, Twitch in the regulations reserved the right to suspend accounts for any reason. It should also be taken into account that the service is not responsible for a radical change in the way a user’s nickname is perceived. Therefore, it should be assumed that in the case of “SquidGame” Ellery the platform had the right to suspend her account.
It is worth noting that complete discretion in excluding given nicknames could be considered impermissible by the court. Especially if there were no objective grounds for such action. The case fits into the broader context of platform rights, which already have the ability to disable unwanted content or actors for any reason. They can do this through algorithms, just as they can allow others to do more (we wrote about this here). The problem certainly requires a debate and strengthening the position of the users. It must be preceded by global changes in the law.
In principle, the right to a nickname is a personal right of a player. As with any personal right, it is subject to protection. It is not allowed to impersonate other players, to profit from someone else’s nickname or to slander someone unjustifiably. On the other hand, practice shows that all kinds of services and platforms have much greater room for maneuver. They can also effectively lead to the removal of someone’s nickname, and thus to a large extent their online identity without any consequences. Due to the global nature of the Internet, it is highly unlikely that a statistical user will decide to assert their rights in court. While we therefore have the ability to protect our nickname from other users, we are virtually powerless against platforms and their administrators.