Trademark Wars On The Web

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This page is meant to be an extensive, if not comprehensive, list of sites that have gotten slammed in one way or another for trademark concerns. The purpose of this list is to document what may be an increasing trend toward the use and abuse of intellectual property law as a form of online censorship.

Although they're usually trademark-related, I'm not including domain-name controversies in this list. These are well-documented elsewhere on the net, especially at the excellent What's in a Name pages at Georgetown.

Linking to closed sites is a little paradoxical. Most of the sites listed here still exist, but have been modified. In most cases, I've chosen to link to the "what happened here" page, where you can typically find lawyers letters, laments, etc. Follow backlinks to see the rest of the sites, some of which are quite worthwhile and entertaining.

I do a lot of searches to try and keep up with new trademark cases, but I rely more and more on user feedback. I've been adding one or two new cases a week, but I'm sure I'm still missing any. If you know of anything you should be listed, please let me know. I'd also love to hear any comments etc. I can be reached here.

Trademark owner Toys R Us
Targeted site(s) Roadkills R Us
These guys make trademark woes look fun. Not only have they reported on everything that's gone on, they've also started a contest to rename their site, called for a boycott and even started a list of other unauthorized "R-us" sites. Don't miss the very salient Torts R Us.
Trademark owner LucasArts
Targeted site(s) http://www.eerie. fr/~tassin/Starwars/close_ord.html
http://www.frii.com/~joe/soa.html

Star Wars fans on the net organized something called the Star of Alderaan Campaign meant to move LucasArts to a more lenient trademark strategy. Near as I can tell, they received some tepid support from LucasArts and are now satisfied...
Trademark owner United Features Syndicate (Dilbert)
Targeted site(s) Willy Chaplin's Page

Lots of vitriol here. Willy's mad as hell that about how UFS responded to his page.
Trademark owner Fox (Simpsons)
Targeted site(s) http://www.snpp.com/fox_letter.html
Steve Rapport's Simpsons Page
The Simpsons Source

D'oh!
Suck said it best when they pointed out the weirdness of any Matt Groening work getting all hostile when people engage in cultural appropriation.
Trademark owner Spelling Entertainment Group
Targeted site(s) Spelling Land


Trademark owner Intel
Targeted site(s) Intel Secrets Page
""Intel Secrets" and "What Intel doesn't want you to know" are trademarks of Robert Collins. Pentium and Intel are trademarks of Intel Corporation. 386, 486, 586, P6, and all other numbers are not!"

More than just trademark issues: There are concerns here about trade secrets too, as well as a modified Intel logo.

In mid-July, Collins added a huge slew of info about the suit,


Trademark owner McDonnell Douglas
Targeted site(s) Joke McDonnell Douglas Warranty Card
Pretty darn humourless, these arms manufacturers...
Trademark owner Warner Bros. (Adorable cartoon characters w. moxie)
Targeted site(s) The @cme Page
Is the Warner Internet Fan Association for real?
Trademark owner Sega (Sonic the Hedgehog)
Targeted site(s) Perverted Sonic Pix
I guess it's sort of unsurprising that Sega would be upset about this...
Trademark owner Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.
Targeted site(s) Elvis home page
This one has a pretty happy ending- the King's lawyers had the site stripped down to just about nothing back when it was the Cyber Graceland Tour, but it's back and running just fine now.
Trademark owner Dutton Children's Books (Winnie The Pooh)
Targeted site(s) Poohbear

Trademark owner The NBA
Targeted site(s) Sean Shepard's Pacers Page
You can read about the NBA trademark crackdowns at The Competitor. Check out Unofficially Endangered and The Missing Link.
Trademark owner The BBC
Targeted site(s) The Fast Show Unofficial Official Unofficial Homage Page
Currently, the BBC seems to be allowing the page to exist, but in modified form. You can read about it at Andrew Wiseman's Television Room

(John Arundel emailed me saying that his problems were related to copyright, not trademark- An important distinction.)


Trademark owner Interlego
Targeted site(s) Lego WWW
Turns out that David Koblas, maintainer of one of the net's frighteningly numerous Lego-related sites, was in fact disserving the public, who were left "confused and misled about the source of information they [were] receving". He has been stopped.
Trademark owner National Football League Properties
Targeted site(s) Goldstar Graphics
The standard lawyers' letter etc appears here, including the request to "cease all further mention if [sic] 'NFL' in any context". Does the NFL really have the right to keep people from talking about them?

Trademark owner Various (Middleberg and Associates)
Targeted site(s) KMart Sucks
Middleberg's stated intention is to help companies protect their "brand images" on the web, by shutting down disparaging pages. They have thus far only talked about the KMart Sucks page: The maintainer of the page tells me that, as of June 19, they haven't actually talked to him.

This could well represent a scarier future trend. So far, corporate attacks on individual pages have mostly been media companies attacking fan sites, a phenomenon that has more to do with cluelessness than malice. Companies like Middleberg seem to intend to use trademark claims, or anything else they can think of, to frighten people who have real grievances into online silence.

You can read more about Middleberg on the objectively-titled "Bastard PR Firm" web page, or read the somewhat less interesting Money Daily article reprinted on the astoundingly cool and comprehensive McSpotlight Site.

    Update:
    The KMart Sucks page has been renamed XMart sucks after a lawyers letter was sent. Read about it here, or check out the letter from the site's sysadmin. I'll try and get the actual letter sent by Middleberg...

      Update 2:
      November 4: Glen L. Roberts, one of my favourite online rabblerousers, emailed to tell me he's keeping a mirror copy of the original KMart sucks page on his site.


Trademark owner Smith Barney
Targeted site(s) Smith Barney Page
Michael Lissack is a self-described whistleblower who runs a web site documenting bond scandals. The site includes a section dedicated to outlining various scandals, lawsuits involving the firm Smith Barney, who most of us remember from the John Houseman ads: "We make money the old-fashioned way, we earn it."

Of course, Smith Barney isn't real happy about the page. But there's no law against publishing true, well-documented information about a company's wrongdoings. Smith Barney is accusing Lissack of trademark violation.

You can read about the threats on Lissack's site, or in this really active Usenet thread.


Trademark owner Ohio Art Company (Etch-a-Sketch)
Targeted site(s) Web A Sketch
Nifty Site. Ohio Art seems to have taken an unusual strategy in demanding that the creator give them the content rather than remove the page.

Trademark owner Fox (X-Files)
Targeted site(s) XFiles Episodes


Trademark owner Viacom Inc (Star Trek)
Targeted site(s) Star Trek Movie Info
David Henderson's page included a "leaked" synopsis of the plot of the next Star Trek movie. This can't have made Paramount happy, but there's no law against it. They sent him a letter demanding that he remove the information. He did. And it then reappeared on Vidiot. Who also got a letter.

As of July 19, you can still find versions of the synopsis here, here, here and here.

    Here's another one: On August 30, Paramount sent a letter to the Athena Sci-Fi Archives, with a more general cease-and-desist message.
On December 13th, 1996, Jeff Rhind received this letter from Viacom, requesting that he remove infringing materials from his site at www.loskene.com. Trek culture online is huge, of course, and this was the broadest cease-and-desist Viacom had yet sent. For more information, see the Loskene Shutdown letter, the First Contact Page, or this story in Wired news (featuring a long thoughtful quote from me).

Trademark owner Hormel Foods (Spam)
Targeted site(s) Spamboy's Gallery
Hormel "Foods", whose product has been among the most-named on the net, sent Spamboy this letter.

Trademark owner TSR Inc. (Dungeons and Dragons)
Targeted site(s) (Various?)
Dating back to '94, this is one of the oldest trademark controversies on the net. James Vassilakos maintains a comprehensive site about it.

Trademark owner Radio Shack
Targeted site(s) RadioPhone
A page of, uh, technical information about cel phones. You can read the correspondence and comments here.

Trademark owner Tyco Toys
Targeted site(s) Magic Infinity Ball
Jake Donham wrote to let me know that his web site used to be called the Magic 8Ball, until he got this letter from Tyco Toys and turned the mark sideways.

Trademark owner British Telecom
Targeted site(s) Not a British Telecom Web Site
I know, I know. I mentioned at the top of the page that I wasn't going to list domain name disputes here. This one seems salient, though, and sort of amusing. Ivan Pope was annoyed with BT. He put his complaints online. On his own website. Which he registered with the name www.british-telecom.com. BT got mad.

Trademark owner The Bitter Agency
Targeted site(s) David Lowry Fan Page
Yet another fan page dramatically abrdidged after a lawyer's threat.

Okay. The Lowry page is a fake- a cheap stunt by some folks doing local theatre. But it's sort of sad that a convincing web page parody must now include links to a trademark suit.



Trademark owner Viacom/Paramount (Brady Bunch)
Targeted site(s) The Unofficial Brady Bunch Home Page
Standard fan page story: Fan starts page. Gets mean letter. Takes stuff down.

Trademark owner Hachette (George Magazine)
Targeted site(s) george jr.
George Myers Jr. had the audactity to name his web zine, george jr., after himself. The name George, of course, is owned by Hachette's George Magazine, "The Political Magazine for People who Don't Want to Know Anything about Politics", published by John Kennedy Junior (who, presumably, has full rights to his name).

Read Myers's article on the subject, or check out the original correspondence. There's even some buzz about the incident on the discussion forums on the George site.


Trademark owner University of Nebraska (Huskers)
Targeted site(s) Misc. Huskers Pages?
Read about it here. I'll post more info as it becomes available.

Trademark owner Gateway 2000 Computers
Targeted site(s) Gateway 2000 Sucks
A disgruntled former employee, Jeff Blackmon, had a popular page, till the lawyers for Gateway, the leading direct marketer of personal computers in the United States, found out about it. They said "Mr. Blackmon is and will always be free to express his honestly held opinions about Gateway and its products," by which they meant, of course, that the page must be removed. It's an increasingly familiar story of trademark law being used to shut down a site that hurt the feelings of a large corporation.

The page is down now, but you can read all about it at the WebBanner site.

    As if that weren't enough, Gateway is also rumored to have started bothering the fine shareware site Tucows, on the grounds that Tucows use cow spots on their page. Read this for some info.


Trademark owner Fox Network (Millenium)
Targeted site(s) The First Unofficial Millennium site
Gil's Millenium Page

Fox's new show had generated all sorts of buzz on the Web for months before its premiere. On October 24, the day before the show aired, Fox squelched the buzz. Check out this Usenet thread for latest details. Or post your opinions to the discussion area on the official Millenium site's dicussion area.

    Update: Nov 4
    Millenium fans and X-Philes are not taking this lying down. I got mail from the maintainer of Athair's Free Speech is Out There page, pointing out that dozens protest sites are springing up really fast.


Trademark owner The Estate of John Lennon
Targeted site(s) Sam Choukri's John Lennon Page
Choukri got a letter from the Lennon estate demanding that he remove "artwork and various trademarks" that appeared on his site. As often happens with fan pages, the final decision was made by the University hosting the page, who decided to take down the whole site.

Choukri's currently got a "Dear Yoko" page running, where people can submit comments, which will be sent to Yoko Ono.




last updated December 20, 1996 by Misha Glouberman

If you're concerned about the fate of free speech on an increasingly corporate internet, check out my paper on Adding Comments to The Web.

"I guess irony can be pretty ironic sometimes" - Airplane II

On September 4th, I disovered that someone had used all my research to create web page remarkably similar to this one, without giving me any notice or credit. How do I feel now that I'm the victim of intellectual property infringement? Click here for the story.