I'd like to buy a Twitter username related to my business.
I'm looking for advice on how to handle this. I'm willing to pay for representation but would prefer an attorney with closely related experience. I'd like to have the attorney make the initial contact and would like to maintain my anonymity. I'd rather not reveal the importance to my business (e.g. the fact that the username is my company name and that I own the .com) in order to get the best price.
One issue: selling usernames is is technically a violation of Twitter's Terms of Service (see "selling user names": http://help.twitter.com/entries/18311) but it's unclear if Twitter is enforcing this. I'm not trying to buy the existing user's followers, I just want the name.
Re: the answer from Pamela Koslyn - despite Twitter's TOS, this is a fairly common transaction so there are certainly sellers willing to do this, e.g. there's a high profile case involving CNN: http://j.mp/1AvLT CNN appears to have done this as a consulting contract to stay within the TOS - I'd be open to doing this or some other type of transaction that would keep things "above board". Again this is why I'm looking for an attorney with experience in this type of transaction. I'd be happy to discuss this with Twitter however I strongly suspect that they don't have any process in place for dealing with this. I haven't found reference to them aiding in any username purchases in my extensive research. Re: impersonation, the username is the name of my company, I own the .com and .org domain names, and have a registered trademark. These were obtained after the existing user obtained the Twitter account so I don't claim that they're "squatting" but I'm certainly not attempting to impersonate anyone.
Intellectual Property Law Attorney
I don't think you need to be terribly concerned as the buyer about the prohibition on selling user names -- that's more there to deter people from cybersquatting (and the resultant extortion to transfer ownership) than it is to prevent a legitimate business from claiming a name that is related to it. Transferring the name shouldn't be difficult except for the fact that anyone who approaches the current owner is going to be asked the obvious question -- i.e., why do you want the name? If the twitter name is closely associated with your company, and you are the logical buyer, then protecting your anonymity is probably not realistic. And if you have a lawyer make the initial approach I'm afraid you may not not actually be sending the "I want it at the best price" signal to the current owner, who will likely see dollar signs when counsel comes calling with a request to buy the twitter name.
But Twitter's terms do allow a "separate legal agreement" for sale of usernames, so get an IP lawyer to contact their support arm to see what's involved in a username purchase.
Disclaimer: Please note that this answer does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied on, since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it is impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue. This answer does not create an attorney-client relationship.
As you wisely recognize, you should retain counsel to guide you through this. As an attorney, I would only be willing to assist you if you agree to handle everything in a legal and ethical manner, which means full disclosure to both (a) Twitter, and (b) the buyer of (1) who you are and why you want the name, and (2) why the price you are paying is fair in the circumstances. To the extent you want to conduct yourself in a manner that hides relevant facts (especially facts concerning why you might be willing to pay good money for the name), you can later be accused of fraud (i.e., misrepresenting or omitting material facts). I could not begin to evaluate the situation until I learned about your business and the seller's reasons why he or she might want to hold onto the name. The key concept here is fairness--you need to do everything in the open, with full disclosure, and you must expect to pay a fair and reasoanble price. And guess what---the seller has no obligation to sell and Twitter has no obligation to consent to the sale. Finally, you should prepare yourself for the distinct possibilty that you might not get what you want. Surely there must be an alternative Twitter user name that would work for you in the event you cannot buy the one you want.