NAR Legal Affairs Department
“What’s in a Name?” That question begins the Membership Marks Manual of the National Association of REALTORS®. But today, it may be more apt to ask, “What’s in a username?” As social networking websites and blogs continue to gain popularity in the real estate marketing world, association executives may ask their members, “What’s in your username?” And, if the members’ usernames include the term “REALTOR®”, AEs should know whether such uses are proper, and what to do if not.
What is a username?
A website that requires visitors to complete a registration prior to using that website often directs the visitor to create a log-in identity and password. That log-in identity is also called a username. Some usernames, like those used on some popular real estate blogs, are used not only to gain entry to a site, but also to identify publicly the user to others viewing the site. As more and more real estate professionals go online, they strive to create usernames that are unique and clever in order to distinguish them from other real estate professionals promoting themselves in the same online space.
Why is it important for REALTOR® associations to protect the use of REALTOR® marks in usernames?
NAR is the proud owner of numerous marks including but not limited to the terms REALTOR®, REALTOR-ASSOCIATE®, REALTORS®, the REALTOR® Logo and the Block “R” mark (which may be referred to collectively as the “marks”). The Marks are collective membership marks which serve to identify members of the National Association and distinguish them from non-members. Since 1916, when the unique term “REALTOR®” was first coined, the public has come to recognize those who use the marks as members of NAR and because some usernames are displayed publicly, proper and authorized use of the Marks in them is necessary to preserve the distinctive character and identifying function of the Marks.
State and local associations play an integral role in protecting and promoting a correct understanding and use of the Marks. The ongoing protection efforts of the state and local associations are the first step in ensuring that the REALTOR® marks continue to be recognized as an indicator of professionalism, integrity, and competence in real estate.
What are the rules regarding use of the REALTOR® marks in a username?
The rules governing the use of the REALTOR® marks are the same regardless of the medium in which the marks are being used. That means that the same rules apply to members’ firm names, domain names, or usernames. These rules require the REALTOR® marks to be used with the name of a member or with the legal name of a member broker’s real estate business. Used in this manner, the REALTOR® mark indicates the real estate professional’s membership to NAR. A separate rule adopted to preserve the viability of use of the REALTOR® marks to identify members prohibits use with descriptive words or phrases.
There are two exceptions to rules for use of the REALTOR® marks on the Internet. First, because the public has adopted the use of all lower-case letters in domain names and usernames, the requirements to use capitalization and the registration symbol “®”with the REALTOR® marks are relaxed. And second, when
used in a domain name or username, the REALTOR® marks need not be separated by punctuation from a member’s name or real estate business name.
What are some examples of acceptable and unacceptable uses of the REALTOR® marks in a username?
First and foremost, use of a REALTOR® mark can only be acceptable if it is authorized. Members or member boards of the National Association of REALTORS® are authorized to use the REALTOR® marks only in connection with their real estate business. Individuals or entities that are not members of NAR are prohibited from using the REALTOR® marks in their domain names or usernames.
Even authorized uses of REALTOR® Marks in usernames of members are acceptable only (1) if used with the member’s name or firm name; and (2) if not used with descriptive words or phrases. For example, a username may not include geographical term modifying the term REALTOR®, such as “Chicago-area REALTOR®”, “Northwest REALTOR®”, or “Downtown REALTOR®”, or descriptive terms that modify the REALTOR® mark such as “Number One REALTOR®”, “Top REALTOR®”, or “Your REALTOR®.” However, geographic descriptions may be used in the usernames of state and local REALTOR® associations.
|Examples of acceptable usernames||Examples of unacceptable usernames|
What is an AE’s responsibility regarding use of the REALTOR® marks?
The Membership Marks Manual lists three responsibilities that a member board has in regards to use of the REALTOR® marks. They are:
- To become familiar with the limitations, guidelines, and policies set forth in the Manual so that guidance and answers to questions from Members, the media, and others concerning the marks and their proper use can be provided promptly and accurately.
- To act promptly to cooperate and coordinate with the National Association in any and all efforts to halt or prevent persistent unauthorized or improper use of the marks, by taking the appropriate steps outlined in the Manual.
- To provide educational resources and opportunities to members and the public to assist them in properly using and understanding the Marks.
State and local AEs are often the first to identify, or to receive complaints about, improper uses of the REALTORS® marks, in usernames or otherwise. When a complaint of misuse if brought to an AE’s attention, she or he should first evaluate the complaint to determine whether there is an actual misuse. Because many improper uses are the result of a lack of awareness or understanding of the rules for use of the Marks, the AE should contact the misuser and request that he or she immediately cease using the REALTOR® mark incorrectly. Most members promptly correct misuses when called to their attention and the proper form of use explained. NAR also has many resources on realtor.org that will assist AEs in their protection efforts including form letters that can be sent to the misuser.
NAR has recently developed a toolkit to make it easy for AEs to address complaints about misuse of the marks in usernames. The toolkit is accessible on the Law & Policy page on realtor.org. The toolkit contains a number of valuable resources including a form letters, a downloadable “On Your Marks Brochure,” and FAQs. As always, the Membership Marks Manual is also accessible on the Law & Policy page on realtor.org. Publishing periodic reminders in your newsletters regarding proper use of the REALTOR® marks will also go a long way towards educating members.