Shoe Store DSW Sues Zappos For Activities Of Affiliates

from the safe-harbors... dept

There's an interesting lawsuit coming out concerning the popular online shoe store, Zappos, that has built up a large business in part by being extremely focused on providing an excellent customer experience. DSW is a large shoe retailer with many brick and mortar stores and also (not surprisingly) an e-commerce operation (Update: the e-commerce part just launched recently, which has many thinking that this whole event appears to be something of a reverse Streisand Effect situation, where it's suing Zappos to get media attention). Late yesterday, DSW filed a lawsuit against Zappos, charging the company with infringing on DSW intellectual property. What was odd, though, was that DSW never contacted Zappos at all -- preferring to inform it of the lawsuit via press release. Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, explained all of this via Twitter, which he's used (quite successfully) to connect and communicate with fans of Zappos.

What came next is quite interesting. Various Twitter followers began investigating the matter, and noticed that a guy using the Twitter name SEOColumbus was defending DSW for filing the lawsuit, while also raving about how much better DSW was than Zappos. Carlo Longino responded to those claims, and then did a quick search discovering that the LinkedIn page of the guy said that he just happened to be DSW's E-Commerce Operations Manager -- something he declined to mention. Soon after Carlo called him on it, though, Carlo noticed that he deleted his LinkedIn profile. The guy claims that he just contracted at DSW for a few months -- but it still seems like he should have disclosed that while bashing Zappos and praising DSW. Update: This part of the story is getting even more bizarre, with claims that the SEOColumbus Twitter account is actually controlled by someone else (which doesn't make much sense, given what the accountholder was saying). And, on top of that, the SEOColubmus Twitter account has now been shut down (temporarily?). Update 2: I've removed the guy's name from this post following a polite request, claiming that the Twitter account really was controlled by someone else. There are numerous inconsistencies in his story that are hard to square up, but at this point we'll take him at his word and thus have removed his name.

As for the lawsuit itself, from the information provided by whoever owns the Twitter account, it seems like it's not due to any actions by Zappos, but by a Zappos affiliate. Just like many e-commerce companies, Zappos lets affiliates sign up and basically drive traffic to Zappos. One of those affiliates set up a site called dsw-shoes.net -- which pretty clearly does infringe on the DSW trademark (which, again, is really about consumer protection, not ownership). It seems reasonable to think that dsw-shoes.net could create some confusion in the customer's mind, even though it has (in tiny print, at the bottom of the page) a note claiming it's not affiliated with DSW. It does, however, link to Zappos using an affiliate code. Given the various safe harbors out there, it certainly seems like DSW went after the wrong target. The complaint should be against whoever operates the affiliate -- not Zappos. An affiliate linking to Zappos should not create liability for Zappos itself. It appears that in DSW's rush to sue Zappos, it didn't bother to understand Zappos is protected against the actions of its affiliates, as it most certainly was not encouraging them to pretend to be DSW. A quick call or letter to Zappos probably would have educated them on this (though, honestly, it should have been obvious from the website in question), but instead, DSW just rushed into a lawsuit, informing Zappos by press release.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Matt, May 13th, 2008 @ 1:01pm

    Yawn

    Another day, another clueless company and frivolous lawsuit. There's nothing to say that hasn't been said before.

     

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  2.  
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    Jason Phillips (profile), May 13th, 2008 @ 1:11pm

    Perhaps...

    This may be a simple case of Safe Harbor -- unless it turns out that Zappos knoew about the website name DSW-shoes. I submit that if they are an affiliate, that Zappos certainly know that a website called DSW-shoes was taking part. I'm sure that you have to give your website name when you fill out an affiliate request form. Zappos should have rejected the affiliate claim, and never allowed them to become an affiliate. This time, I think, it's not a Safe Harbor case.

     

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  3.  
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    Kristen Grace, May 13th, 2008 @ 1:17pm

    A simple email...give affiliates credit!

    You can nurture and guide your affiliates 110%, but some of them may not follow. I'm sure Zappos wouldn't encourage their affiliates to buy up competitor domains and drive opposing traffic. If you're truly confident in the brand your company has built, affiliates will be happy to promote it. If they try something sneaky, it's only fair to clue all parties involved.

     

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  4.  
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    Jules, May 13th, 2008 @ 1:22pm

    On top of SEOColumbus deleting his LinkedIn profile, he also just deleted his Twitter account: http://twitter.com/SEOColumbus

     

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  5.  
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    Dave Zawislak, May 13th, 2008 @ 1:31pm

    Re: Perhaps...

    Zappos should have rejected the affiliate claim, and never allowed them to become an affiliate. This time, I think, it's not a Safe Harbor case.

    How? Any site with DSW in the site name? And then be subjected to no safe harbor protection. It is up to DSW to police its own brand and trademarks correctly.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Joe, May 13th, 2008 @ 1:46pm

    Re: Re: Perhaps...

    They're full of it, DSW is just trying to get media attention since they're launching an online store soon. THATS THE ONLY REASON!!! Zappos.com would never do that on purpose, what a bunch of bs.

     

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  7.  
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    Joe, May 13th, 2008 @ 2:01pm

    Re: Re: Re: Perhaps...

    Correction: Their site is only a few weeks old. It's so obvious that they are picking on Zappos.com to get free press for their website.

    They didn't even tell Zappos.com, they just told the press first. That right there proves they just want media attention and are not actually interested in solving their "claim".

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2008 @ 2:20pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Perhaps...

    Sue first, ask questions later.

     

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  9.  
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    You never know, May 13th, 2008 @ 2:25pm

    Another clear case of, "If you can't make money legitimately, Use legal larceny!"

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    bobbknight, May 13th, 2008 @ 3:25pm

    Time

    I think it's time for a new pair of zapatos from zappos.

     

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  11.  
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    jfouts, May 13th, 2008 @ 4:49pm

    Shop at Zappos

    See, that's what I think. DSW is just trying to stir up some press. Any idiot can look at the site and see that is not built by Zappos, but even if they did that, they chose to issue a press releaseinstead of contacting Zappos?

    Cowardly press mongering in my humble opinion. I say we should all go buy something from Zappos and shun DSW for the corporate minded slugs they seem to be.

     

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  12.  
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    some old guy, May 13th, 2008 @ 5:26pm

    I don't like twits

    I don't like twits, and I don't want to read about your exploits in twitcasting.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2008 @ 1:25am

    Re: Re: Perhaps... To Dave Z.

    How? Any site with DSW in the site name? And then be subjected to no safe harbor protection. It is up to DSW to police its own brand and trademarks correctly.
    Hell yes any site with "DSW SHOES" in the name! http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/512.html Safe harbor has nothing to do with business relationships of this type. The ad seller does not qualify because they have to approve the affiliate. (See the president set by the Roommates.com case) The service allowing an affiliate should have known that a website named DSW-shoes (the NAME and major PRODUCT of a competitor) would confuse even an "idiot in a hurry" their process should have weeded out this affiliate before they were allowed to advertise.

     

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  14.  
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    Adrian in Dallas, May 14th, 2008 @ 4:55am

    Dallas Shoe Warehouse can suck ZAPPO's toes...

    I hate it when clueless company officials get all hot & bothered by imagined infringements by other, better-established competitors. DSW (formerly called "Dallas Shoe Warehouse" and still based here, I think) is nothing but what the name says: a warehouse of clawing women desperate to spend money on more frivolity in their empty lives.

    I think we can all agree: Women don't have enough choices when it comes to shoes...

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Miso, May 14th, 2008 @ 1:43pm

    Re: Dallas Shoe Warehouse can suck ZAPPO's toes...

    Not to get technical but they started in Dublin Ohio (Columbus) and are still headquartered in Columbus Ohio (Google is great). I believe DSW stands for Designer Shoe Warehouse not sure if it stood for that back when it started or if it stood for Dublin Shoe Warehouse.

    I am kind of in agreement with others that this is more of a publicity stunt, but it will also garner some more publicity towards Zappo's as well so it is sort of a win win situation.

    I also do not know about you but if I could start a business that sounds like "a warehouse of clawing women desperate to spend money on more frivolity in their empty lives" sounds like a good business idea to me ;)

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    just another shoe website worker, May 16th, 2008 @ 4:25pm

    DSW

    This is another case of a brick and mortar company totally clueless about doing business on-line and has to enlist the court's help to compete.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Shop at Zappos, May 18th, 2008 @ 8:41pm

    This little ploy by DSW is no more than an annoying gnat. Zappos culture and Zappos business will rule the world. Word.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    CE, May 21st, 2008 @ 1:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Perhaps...

    I don't understand way everyone is so quick to the defense of Zappos. Their marketing reputation is not exactly spotless.

    For several years they have undertaken strong-arm & sometimes questionable tactics. Zappos seems to have cleaned up their act recently, but it is hard to believe they had no knowledge of this affiliate infringing on on the DSW trademark. In good faith, they should have proactively taken action to have the affiliate removed from their program.

     

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  19.  
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    sally, Aug 19th, 2009 @ 11:41am

     

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  20.  
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    Franklin in TN, Feb 9th, 2011 @ 8:18am

    Yeah DSW definately rushed to judgement on this one. Hopefully the overall effect will be Zappos selling more shoes. Zappos is a great company win a history of leading by example.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Pure Costumes, Jun 4th, 2012 @ 8:07am

    PR all the way

    This is very common in Business world. A lot of time when you can't compete like DSW, you find other ways to slow your competitors down. The other part is, you get PR from doing this. A PR is a PR regardless if it's bad or good.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Karen, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 8:12am

    more difficult than it looked

    Depending on the niche. For example, if you are in the adult/lingerie business, it's hard due to censorship and how other deem your products. Some sites won't even bother as your content is not Google friendly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    mascot costumes, Aug 20th, 2013 @ 11:43pm

    mascot costumes

    I've removed the guy's name from this post following a polite request, claiming that the Twitter account really was controlled by someone else. There are numerous inconsistencies in his story that are hard to square up, but at this point we'll take him at his word and thus have removed his name.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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