Leave No Trace!

Earlier this year, we talked about the dangers of relying on third-party bots to chase down potential copyright infringement, and the ironic circumstances that ensue when the rights holder’s own content becomes a target. It’s a frustrating situation for everyone, but this kind of oversight is no surprise when automation is let off the leash. What’s even more shocking are cases in which this paradoxical level of enforcement is employed by humans, as we recently experienced with Subaru for America.

The car manufacturer is currently sponsoring a nonprofit organization, The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. For the uninitiated, “Leave No Trace” is the concept of enjoying the wilderness responsibly, with an eye towards conservation and preservation of natural beauty. A noble cause to be sure, but two WordPress.com users discovered the hard way that a corporation’s actions can sometimes speak louder than its words.

In the application for The Subaru Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program, it’s suggested that, among other things, applicants should be able to generate social media content via creating blogs, posting photos, and creating videos. This is exactly what Sam and Jenna attempted to do when they created this blog as part of their application process.

Surprisingly, however, Subaru was less than thrilled with this harmless use of the brand name, and accused our users of trademark infringement and cybersquatting. Apparently the legal department at Subaru wasn’t aware of their company’s sponsored initiative. Yikes!

We passed along the notice to Sam and Jenna with the understanding that we would not be taking any action against their blog as their content does not constitute trademark infringement. In good faith, though, our bloggers took the high road and removed most instances of ‘Subaru’ from their blog to appease the automaker’s demands.

While Subaru reminded us that it “aggressively protects its trademarks and other intangible assets,” it’s unfortunate in this case that they didn’t maintain that same level of overzealous enthusiasm for our users or the great outdoors.

Sorry Ms. Jackson…

Janet Jackson is a fine recording artist, but seems to have employed some overly aggressive lawyers, bent on removing or controlling all references to her name on WordPress.com. Here are a couple of examples of the improper takedown demands we’ve received:

  • Trademark infringement: The mention of Janet Jackson in a post about dinner conversation topic “What would your WWE Smackdown name be?”

“Picture Sacha Baron Cohen in, what else? his movie The Dictator. Elaborate General’s outfit, hat, etc. He walks in flanked by half a dozen sexy female soldiers inspired by the Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation video.”

(Here’s what our user thinks.)

  • Copyright infringement: An image of Ms. Jackson used in a Tim Howard meme:

janet-jackson-tim-howard

We rejected both of these complaints on the grounds of obvious fair use. Though we rejected their demands, we wanted to make sure they got at least a little promotion for their client, so we tried to use as many Janet Jackson song titles as possible (hopefully this doesn’t draw another takedown demand from them…) in our response:

“It seems like you believe the use of the trademark “Janet Jackson” is reserved all for you, but we were hoping you’d be open to some feedback because your attempt to control every use of the mark is pretty nasty. If you read up on nominative use, you’ll discover that it doesn’t really matter that “Janet Jackson” is used on this site. If you believe there are any other alleged infringements, would you mind submitting a notice again via our trademark form?

http://automattic.com/trademark-policy/

So excited to work with you going forward.”