Brandy Thomas: Cyveillance Chief Tracks Illegal Use of Brand Names on Net
Burn, Tim, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Brandy Thomas says it is hard to put a precise value on corporate brand names. But business people are becoming increasingly convinced that piracy and misuse of brand names on the Internet is costing them plenty.
To drive home the point, Mr. Thomas, 31, and CEO of Alexandria-based Cyveillance, has a stack of CD video disks on his desk: "Matrix," "The Thin Red Line," "Shakespeare in Love" and others.
In some cases, he obtained these disks from Web sites weeks before the movie hit the theaters. In each case, the movie was illegally bootlegged by some unknown company or individual to be resold to millions of potential buyers via the Internet.
As the technology becomes more accessible, more potential moviegoers are starting to ask, "Why go to the theater anymore when I can bootleg movies from the Internet?" It's a notion that has filmmakers, the music industry and others worried about the possibility of eroding market share.
Every Web surfer who downloads a movie from his or her computer is one more empty seat on a theater. The filmmakers lose, the theaters lose, the whole industry loses.
Major companies from soft drink giants to motion picture companies count on their brand names to set themselves apart from their competitors. While laws are clear on copyright infringement in the real world, cyberspace has become the Wild West, a lawless place where branded images are stolen and exploited in an instant, and market share can disappear just as quickly.
Mr. Thomas' Internet information business, now two years old, helps companies pinpoint and track illegal use of their brand names on the Internet.
Question: How big a problem is the misuse of brand names on the Internet?
Answer: It's a huge problem and it is growing every day. It grows proportionately with the size of the Internet, the number of Web pages, Web users and the potential realization of e-commerce.
It's like the Wild West. The more opportunity there is out there the more people are going to abuse brands.
Q: In what ways are companies being harmed?
A: We conducted a study two months ago that listed the top 10 ways a brand name can get abused on the Internet. The top ones were illegal distribution of goods. It's like New York on acid. Anything you can find on the streets of New York you can find easily on the Internet. Also, some companies are using brand names as search engine magnets . . .
Take Coca-Cola for example. I could set up a soda site, put "Coca-Cola" somewhere in my site so when people type that in they will reach my site instead of the real Coke site.
The biggest one is the misuse of copyrighted and trademarked images. I could be "Brandy's House of Toys," and put a big old Toys `R' Us logo on my Web site. Visitors will think I am in some way affiliated with the company.
Q: What companies or groups are most likely to abuse a brand name?
A: There are two groups of people who abuse brand names. First, there are unknowing consumers who put up fan sites, shrines, really helping companies spread their reputation. But then there is a large and growing number of commercial entities out there that are leveraging the good will of people's established brands to drive business to their own sites.
Those usually tend to be smaller players who don't own the content, or have inferior content with no brand name, hoping to get the eyeballs and the dollars to their site.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background.
A: I'm a local guy. I grew up in Fairfax and went to W.T. Woodson High School. I went away to college at Duke University where I got several degrees in engineering, mathematics and computer science. I came here and worked for Apple Computer in Reston for a few years, then went back to Stanford for grad school, lived in San Francisco for a while. Then I came back home to work for a local management consulting firm called Mercer Management Consulting. …