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Trademark ‘Violators’ in a Connected Era

30 May

If someone were to come up with an Encyclopedia of Lessons Learned it would surely run into volumes. I would love to help edit it!

Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson bring up one more case of how companies get it wrong when trying to protect their brand by trying to silence a fan and calling it “infringement.”  (Check out For Immediate Release podcast. Show # 705)

The case involved Nutella, and a fan who started something called World Nutella Day, created by one Sara Rosso. It reminded me of a case involving the line “Eat More Kale,” that was completely different, in terms of not using a brand, but “infringing” on its tagline. (I understand that advertisersconsider taglines as “intellectual property” even when they are really  sharable markers, not some protected species.)

I interviewed Bo Mueller Moore for a section in my book that talks about “speaking out of turn” and why we do it. The reason these cases resonate with me is because I was the recipient of one of these silly, corporate Cease-and-Desist letters myself, way back in 2000. I know first hand, what it means when a fan-boy (or fan girl, in Rosso’s case) is asked to shut up, or face a battery of lawyers.

You could find more about this, in Chat Republic.

But to get back to the podcast, it features an excellent discussion on why, especially (but not exclusively) in an age of social media, companies should strongly think through what they are really trying to lock down: The brand identity, or the conversations arround it? I didn’t know this, but Shel Holtz, who once worked for Mattel, referred to how the company had tried to sue the band Aqua, for a song called “Barbie Girl” –in 1997.

In 2009, Mattel did an about turn. It sanctioned and released a music video with the song.

A sobering thought for anyone considering firing off a cease-and-desist, today.

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