Can a company force you too change your organization name?

Hi, I’m the owner of outvoice.github.io · GitHub github organization, me and some friends are using https://outvoice.github.io to edit and share invoices.

Recently I’ve been approach by https://outvoice.com asking me to rename because the name is too similar.

Do they have any legal ground ? What are the rules with usernames and trademarks ?

GitHub usernames (which includes personal accounts and organisations) are first come first serve. If you (a person, a business) contact GitHub and ask for a username (e.g: "I am a representative of OutVoice, please can we have the username outvoice") GitHub will not transfer the name unless the usage is in violation of the name-squatting policy – which means, in practice, if the username is active[1] then GitHub will not transfer it. The trademark policy is also very reasonable: ownership of a trademark does not grant ownership of a username, unless the current usage is misleading – e.g: you’re pretending to be OutVoice[2].

OutVoice probably emailed GitHub asking for the username, they were told “sorry, it’s active, we can’t give it to you” and so OutVoice have sent you an email asking if you’d relinquish the name because they know they have no grounds upon which to take ownership.

If you like the username and want to keep it, you can stand firm: explain that the username is yours and you will not hand it over. If you have any concerns that OutVoice might try to pursue a trademark claim then you can reach out to GitHub and ask for reassurance that your usage would not fall foul of the trademark policy.

[1] There is no clear definition of “active” but based on my own experience of trying to acquire usernames (successfully and unsuccessfully) any GitHub usage (public or private) by anyone associated with the organisation or account qualifies as activity, even if it is many years old. The presence of a repository in your organisation that has an active GitHub Pages deployment will qualify the organisation as “active”.

[2] If you think there might be room for confusion you could offer to add a disclaimer to your GitHub page (e.g: “Not associated with OutVoice, Inc.”) however it is very unlikely to be necessary: they probably just want the username for convenience.

2 Likes

Thanks a lot for the complete answer Shrink, I did offert them (by mail) to add a disclaimer that I was not affiliated with OutVoice.com but they told me it wasn’t enough.

I am not actively changing the website but still actively using it and shared it so other users use it too.

Ok, I wanted to be sure what was the rule on this.