Discovery Channel Ignores Repeated Twitter Questions, Sends Content-Free Statement

from the shark-week-is-over dept

On Monday, we wrote about the ridiculous manner in which The Discovery Channel was treating a fan site that it had previously supported strongly. At the very top we clearly noted that the domain name of the site -- DeadliestCatchTV.com -- was indeed a problem, and I could totally understand the trademark claim. But there are all sorts of ways this could be dealt with, and The Discovery Channel appears to have chosen the absolute worst. First, it's important to point out that for over a year (at least), The Discovery Channel has actively supported this fan site. Not only did staff members happily email the site's owner, John White, with encouragement, preview videos and content, but it also linked directly to the site on the official webpage for the show Deadliest Catch -- even "framing" White's site with its own dashboard.

However, after actively supporting the show, suddenly Discovery switched 180 degrees and sent over a legal nastygram, demanding that the site be taken down and the domain handed over. Beyond the (again, probably legitimate) trademark issue, the lawyers added on the absolutely ridiculous claim that White's embedding of clips from the Discovery Channel's own YouTube channel (that had embedding enabled) was copyright infringement. This is copyfraud. Discovery specifically chose to allow the world to embed. To then accuse someone of copyright infringement for doing so is blatant legal bullying.

What struck me as interesting, however, was how quiet The Discovery Channel was in response. After our story, this situation started getting a lot more attention, and I started to see a long series of tweets of links to the post directed at the Discovery Channel's official Twitter channel. While the anonymous official tweetmeister of The Discovery Channel happily tweeted with others about various shows and personalities, there was not a single response to the dozens of people asking The Discovery Channel to explain why it turned on John White.

I found this interesting, so I noted the silence in a Twitter message myself. Within seconds, I had in my email in-box a "statement" from Discovery's VP of Communications:
There have been some recent questions about the use of Deadliest Catch content on non-Discovery websites. Discovery Channel's policy of allowing fan sites to use embeddable videos has not changed. We value and appreciate our online fans, and are always open to sharing clips with sites that feature Deadliest Catch and our other programming. Our policy does not, however, permit the use of confusingly similar domain names that infringe on our trademarks. This also extends to the use of photographs that are subject to license limitations designed to protect our talent and our brands. We are as committed as ever to our partnerships with our fan sites, and look forward to continuing to work with you and your content needs.
Except... that barely addresses one small aspect of the problem. It seems to admit that the lawyers went way beyond what was reasonable in threatening White over the embeds, but doesn't appear to offer any sort of admission of a mistake or apology. But, more importantly, the statement doesn't address the fact that The Discovery Channel had actively supported the site for at least a year, before suddenly switching tactics and sending legal nastygrams. Also, that final statement is clearly false. If The Discovery Channel was "as committed as ever to partnerships with fan sites," it wouldn't nastygram them.

So, since we aim to be constructive around here, here are a few suggestions on how The Discovery Channel could have dealt with this situation:
  1. At whatever point The Discovery Channel realized that it was uncomfortable with the similar domain name, even though it had supported it in the past, it should have politely reached out to John White. They should have acknowledged how happy they were with the community he had built and how much he had supported the show, and then discussed alternatives for dealing with the potential trademark issue. This should have been done by someone who was not outside legal representation in a friendly letter. Obviously, any such letter should have been reviewed by legal staff, but it should not have been a threat letter.
  2. In reviewing the options, The Discovery Channel could have offered up a variety of positive alternatives that showed it really was "committed as ever to partnerships with fan sites." For example, it could have offered to help transition the site to a new domain, including promoting the new domain, or it could have offered some sort of very inexpensive or possibly free "license" to use the name in a legitimate manner, without having to worry about genericizing the trademark (probably the lawyers' concern).
  3. Once the story broke and it was revealed that the lawyers bullying John White did so with dubious claims, The Discovery Channel should have been quick and forthright in issuing an apology for making threats that went beyond the legal boundaries of its own rights.
  4. Finally, rather than staying totally silent about this on the official Discovery Channel Twitter feed just as dozens of people were asking what was going on, The Discovery Channel should have engaged with people questioning its actions, explained its position clearly, apologized for the mistakes and overreaching, and promised that it would handle such situations more appropriately in the future.
Unfortunately, it looks like The Discovery Channel did none of that.

Oh yeah. One amusing post script? This whole thing comes just a couple weeks after a judge ordered TLC (owned by Discovery) to change the name of the show Cake Boss, for infringing on a software company's trademarks. So the company should know how it feels to be on the receiving end of a trademark threat. Too bad that rather than deal with it in a nice manner, it simply sent out its legal sharks.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    iamtheky (profile), Aug 11th, 2010 @ 9:22am

    A preliminary injunction is a start, but does that amount to "ordered to change the name of the show", at least not yet.

     

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

  2.  
    identicon
    Michael, Aug 11th, 2010 @ 9:31am

    Left Hand / Right Hand

    My guess is that this was a case of the left hand now knowing what the right hand was doing.

    Best guess is that for a year, the legal team did not know about the site. During that time, the show team worked with the fan site happily because they understand the benefits of promoting it.

    Then, the legal team found the site and issued the threat letter - because that's what lawyers do. When they did, they probably told the show team that they could not discuss the matter with anyone.

    So, the show team cannot say anything because their legal department threatened them with unemployment if they discuss the situation. The legal team - well, they are lawyers and since they did not do anything legally wrong, they think they are clearly in the right for what they have done and pay no mind to the negative consequences.

    Finally, the executives simply don't care - because that's what they do. They tell the people running the show that they have to fix the problem without going outside the guidelines set by the legal team and then do nothing to get the legal team under control because they too are being told that a change in their stance could have a negative 'legal' impact.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 11th, 2010 @ 9:46am

    Re: Left Hand / Right Hand

    I think I agree with your analysis.

    Too bad that lawyers are running the show. They only think of their own survival. It's a life style. They are completely obnoxious because that's what they were told they need to be. Tssk Tssk...

    [facepalm]

     

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  4.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Aug 11th, 2010 @ 9:46am

    Re: Left Hand / Right Hand

    I agree that this seems likely....but how fucking dumb is that? I always thought the company ran the company and that the outside law firm answered to THEM, not the other way around....

     

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

  5.  
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    AdamBv1 (profile), Aug 11th, 2010 @ 10:00am

    Oh yeah. One amusing post script? This whole thing comes just a couple weeks after a judge ordered TLC (owned by Discovery) to change the name of the show Cake Boss, for infringing on a software company's trademarks. So the company should know how it feels to be on the receiving end of a trademark threat. Too bad that rather than deal with it in a nice manner, it simply sent out its legal sharks.


    Seems to me if they were smart they could of learned something from this and gone and done the "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." approach but instead went by the "Somebody was an asshat to me so I will be asshat to others." approach instead.

     

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

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 11th, 2010 @ 10:01am

    Re: Left Hand / Right Hand

    Thanks for succinctly expressing what we all knew to be true already but maybe not quite so clearly as this.

     

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

  7.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Aug 11th, 2010 @ 10:03am

    Y'know...

    I'm struck at the similarity between how lawyers and cops (at least, my cops) behave. The idea seems to be to establish your authority by leveraging your advantage and being the biggest asshole in the room.

    The only downside is that everyone is your profession is assumed to be an asshole.

     

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

  8.  
    icon
    interval (profile), Aug 11th, 2010 @ 10:17am

    Re: Re: Left Hand / Right Hand

    Certainly the likely scenario, although a DC change in management is also possible. Note also, and of course I can only make a guess, but notice that the Hillstrand Bros. have been doing a lot (and I mean A LOT) of commercial work. I have to wonder if the increase in visibility (and dollars) from this work is also a factor?

     

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

  9.  
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    bADiTCH (profile), Aug 11th, 2010 @ 10:18am

    The channel gone down hill anyway

    I have to admit that The Discovery Channel used to be in my top list of channels to watch. But in the last couple of years it has just become crappy. Kinda sad since it was one of my favorite late night channels. Now it's just off my favorites list completely.

     

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  10.  
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    interval (profile), Aug 11th, 2010 @ 10:20am

    Re: Y'know...

    @ChurchHatesTucker: "I'm struck at the similarity between how lawyers and cops...behave."

    You are aware that the moment a lawyer is sworn he/she becomes a law enforcement officer in the state he/she is sworn in at?

     

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

  11.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Aug 11th, 2010 @ 10:45am

    Re: Re: Y'know...

    "You are aware that the moment a lawyer is sworn he/she becomes a law enforcement officer in the state he/she is sworn in at?"

    What does that mean, in practical terms?

     

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

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 11th, 2010 @ 11:01am

    "Too bad that rather than deal with it in a nice manner, it simply sent out its legal sharks. "

    Well it is shark week.

     

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

  13.  
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    John White (profile), Aug 11th, 2010 @ 12:02pm

    I guess they forgot to send that response to me

    Suddenly today I see their response posted all over the internet. Puzzling I was the one person who did not receive it an as my site was the one in question. So they will ignore the facts with me and at at the same time try and do some quick damage control by showing how much they "value and appreciate our online fans"

    Had this been their actual stance with me, there would have never been any issue as I was more then willing to work with them. Funny, I guess they suddenly lost my contact information.

     

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

  14.  
    icon
    interval (profile), Aug 11th, 2010 @ 12:06pm

    Re: Re: Re: Y'know...

    Lawyers are sworn to uphold the legal authority of the jurisdiction in which they are sworn, as well as the constitution of the US, same as badge-wearing cops, and can arrest you, same as badge-wearing cops. Can take you downtown to the station, same as badge wearing cops, and book you same as badge-wearing cops. NOT the same as a citizen making a "citizens arrest", which can be f'd with legally, challenged, law suits, , dismissed with the slightest infraction or misreading of the penal code, judge's discretion, etc.

     

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

  15.  
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    crade (profile), Aug 11th, 2010 @ 1:10pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Y'know...

    This seems really wonky. They don't have badges or anything to demonstrate that they actually have any authority to arrest you. So if some random wierdo claiming to be a lawyer says I'm under arrest, and I ignore him, I'm resisting?

     

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

  16.  
    identicon
    robin, Aug 11th, 2010 @ 3:49pm

    Re: I guess they forgot to send that response to me

    as my kiwi friends say john, good on'ya! i know a fight isn't what you wanted, but you've got a good one on your hands, with lots of support out there in internet-land.

    ianal, but you've got a bunch of options available short of court, where even if they file, you fold at that point. the court of public opinion has its own resources and leverage.

    continued success.

     

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

  17.  
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    Tom Landry (profile), Aug 11th, 2010 @ 4:38pm

    attorneys = Human excrement.

     

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

  18.  
    icon
    Jon Lawrence (profile), Aug 11th, 2010 @ 8:33pm

    Re: Left Hand / Right Hand

    One more reason networks in their current incarnation must die.

    Social media is about transparency and humanity.

    Corporate media is about obfuscation and exclusiveness.

    Which one is do you think will be the dominant form of media 10 years from now?

     

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

  19.  
    icon
    John White (profile), Aug 11th, 2010 @ 8:48pm

    Re: Re: I guess they forgot to send that response to me

    Thanks Robin. In the end I removed the site and contacted Discovery in preparation of transferring the domain. Either way I'm far from done I just need to decide which route to take going forward. Initially I though I would just end it and go back to working on my few other sites (which are all recreational topics so no corporate legal nonsense) However with all of the support and emails I received I think it would be too hard to just walk away from this topic altogether.

     

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

  20.  
    identicon
    Pixelation, Aug 12th, 2010 @ 7:43am

    A response from Discovery

    I sent an email letting them know how I felt about the situation. Here is the response...
    Dear Viewer:

    Thank you for contacting Discovery Channel. We appreciate your
    correspondence and for taking the time to share your thoughts and concerns
    with us about Deadliest Catch.

    There have been some recent questions about the use of Deadliest Catch
    content on non-Discovery websites. Discovery Channel's policy of allowing
    fan sites to use embeddable videos has not changed. We value and
    appreciate our online fans, and are always open to sharing clips with sites
    that feature Deadliest Catch and our other programming. Our policy does
    not, however, permit the use of confusingly similar domain names that
    infringe on our trademarks. This also extends to the use of photographs
    that are subject to license limitations designed to protect our talent and
    our brands. We are as committed as ever to our partnerships with our fan
    sites, and look forward to continuing to work with you and your content
    needs.

    Again, thank you for contacting Discovery Channel.

    Sincerely,

    Viewer Relations
    Discovery Channel

     

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


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