For the most part, the geek community seems to like Craigslist -- and for good reason. The company is a model of how to build up a massively successful company without "being evil." Most of the postings on the site still remain free, with a few exceptions -- and in the cases of those exceptions, it seems to almost always make sense to charge there. The company always seems focused on providing a good service to its community and generally supporting that community. The company also has made a name for itself by keeping marketers out, and focusing on engineering. On top of that, having dealt with folks there, they always seem pretty straightforward and genuine. I will admit my "bias" upfront here: I like Craigslist.
But the one thing that the company has done for years that still really strikes me as odd is how they lawyer up and go after others aggressively at times. There are a few areas where they do this, but the least defensible to me is when they go after sites that aggregate their listings and point people back to them. We first noted this more than six years ago, when Craigslist threatened a site for creating a universal search. Craigslist, itself, only let you search within a certain location, rather than globally. And because someone else did it, Craigslist pressured them to shut it down. It looks like that's still happening.
timlash points us to the news that the site Jaxed recently received a cease & desist and shut down its links to Craigslist's listings. The C&D apparently claimed that listing Craigslist results in its aggregated search results was a "misuse" of Craigslist, but I don't quite see how. I know that Craigslist hates anyone scraping their site, and claims that it uses up bandwidth and resources, but there are technical means to block such things, rather than breaking out the lawyers with dubious theories about how linking to a site is misuse of that site...
Ah, Best Buy. It's apparently decided to get into the trademark bullying business. The company sent well known online electronics retailer Newegg a cease & desist (shown below) because Newegg is running a marketing campaign called "Geek On" with the "O" in "On" made to look like a "power on" button. Best Buy claims that this is biting off its own Geek Squad logo, which similarly uses a power on button (though, with a tie):
The shirt is Newegg. The callout is Best Buy. And, yes, they look nothing alike. No moron in a hurry is going to be confused here. To make it even more crazy, Best Buy, in true conspiracy theory mode, decides that Newegg is also violating its trademarks because of the following commercial, which pokes fun at Best Buy:
Best Buy takes offense at all this and claims that it's trademark infringement:
The fake Best Buy employee is depicted as being slovenly and uninformed about computer products, in contrast to your employees who are portrayed as "experts."
Your misuse of our valuable trademarks and your negative portrayal of our employees violate our trademark rights and misleads consumers about our services, in violation of federal and state law. While we welcome fair competition, we cannot tolerate unfair competition that disparages our employees, confuses customers and damages our valuable trademarks and the goodwill associated with those marks. We take great pride in our employees and the high quality of customer service they offer and find your company's focus on our employees in this advertising campaign to be particularly offensive.
Of course, there are all sorts of problems with these claims. The logos looking nothing alike, as we've already discussed, but the whole thing about the TV ad is just ridiculous. There's clearly no trademark issue there, as competitors are absolutely allowed to poke fun at each other. No one is going to think that Best Buy "sponsored" the Newegg commercial. There's no consumer confusion at all. More amusingly, the fact that Best Buy thinks that Newegg is portraying Best Buy employees says a lot about how Best Buy views its own employees.
Of course, as many are pointing out, this whole thing has done the exact opposite of what Best Buy probably wanted. First, it's driven a ton of attention to Newegg's commercial, but more importantly, it's made Newegg supporters -- who are generally quite tech savvy -- really dislike Best Buy even more than they may have already. Newegg had posted the C&D letter on its Facebook page, and the response are almost universally anti-Best Buy:
Perhaps next time Best Buy will think about the consequences of sending out such a bogus C&D before all of this happens.
Two and a half years ago, we wrote about the question of Twitter squatters and other likely fights about who gets to own what Twitter names, and pointed to a suggestion from lawyer Erik Heels that there needed to be a clear Twitter user name dispute resolution policy, similar to UDRP (Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy) for domain names. To date, there still isn't anything quite like that, though Twitter often seems to take matters into its own hands if someone complains. However, apparently, Spin Magazine decided to bypass contacting Twitter directly and instead sent a cease & desist letter to the guy who had the @spin user name on Twitter, relegating Spin Magazine to using the dreaded @SpinMagazine (you can see the full cease & desist letter at ChillingEffects).
Spin Magazine tried to claim that there was "confusion" with Eric Rice's @spin account by pointing to tweets that were meant for the magazine, but were directed to Rice instead. Of course, I don't see how Spin Magazine would have any legal claim here, since Eric Rice is an individual and is unlikely to be using the Twitter account for commercial purposes. Honestly, Spin Magazine comes off looking pretty silly here, and could have just tried a friendly approach, rather than running to the lawyers. However, Rice claims that until the C&D showed up, he'd never heard from Spin Magazine, despite his using Twitter for years with the name. We see this kind of thing all the time with lawyers and clients who think breaking out the legal nastygrams is a good way to get people to cooperate. Perhaps the scare tactics work some of the time, but they have a high likelihood of backfiring badly, as well.
UK bank NatWest apparently let its legal attack dogs off their leashes a bit prematurely recently, sending a nastygram cease & desist to a website that was merely reviewing different banks for students looking to open up bank accounts. This is the sort of thing that you might think NatWest would appreciate. Instead, it sent the C&D. Of course, once the press started asking questions, it appears that NatWest realized that perhaps it had made a mistake, and withdrew the legal request. Perhaps, in the future, they'll think before sending in the lawyers.
You may have heard the stories recently that Steve Jobs seems to regularly respond directly to emails from customers -- often making certain points that he knows will be spread throughout the press. However, if you have a complaint about your iPhone, you can send it to Jobs, but apparently you shouldn't send it to AT&T's CEO, Randall Stephenson. Someone sent over the story of a guy named Giorgio, who was upset enough about the new data plans that he sent an email expressing his displeasure directly to Stephenson (whose address he apparently got from the Consumerist blog).
"I want to first thank you for the feedback. Going forward, I need to warn you that if you continue to send emails to Randall Stephenson, a cease & desist letter may be sent to you..."
For what? That's not explained. I can't think of any legal basis for such a cease & desist letter. Honestly, the whole thing seems so outrageous that you have to wonder if it's a hoax. If it turns out to be true (and please, please, someone tell us that this is a hoax) then it reflects incredibly poorly on AT&T.
Update: Well, now it's been confirmed by AT&T that they actually did make this threat. A PR person working for AT&T (but not an AT&T employee) contacted us with your typical bland PR statement, issuing an apology, and saying "this is not the way we want to treat customers." But it is how you treated your customer... and, notably, nowhere in the statement does the PR person explain why AT&T responded this way to a customer.
The full statement is:
We are apologizing to our customer. We're working with him today to address his questions and concerns. This is not the way we want to treat customers. From Facebook to significant customer service channels, AT&T strives to provide our customers with easy ways to have their questions addressed.
So you may recall that last week, the story spread about how Demi Moore's lawyers flipped out and sent ridiculous (laughably so) legal threats to a few blogs that were discussing whether or not Moore's photo on the cover of W magazine had been digitally retouched and, if so, how poor a job the retouching was. Most specifically, there was the point that her hip looked out of place. None of the conversation (which had mostly died out a month before Ms. Moore's lawyers got involved) suggested anything even remotely negative about Ms. Moore herself -- but about the potentially poor editing job on the photo itself.
Of course, once the story was pushed back into the news by Moore's lawyers, a second look at the evidence suggested quite clearly that the image had, in fact, been retouched (not that there's anything wrong with that). And, now, the story gets even more bizarre. Anthony Citrano, one of the bloggers being threatened by Moore's lawyers -- and who has (reasonably) demanded a complete retraction and apology from Moore's lawyers -- got in touch to let us know that the Korea edition of W magazine just happened to have fixed the hip problem on their cover version of the same photo.
As Citrano points out, this leads to one of two possibilities:
Citrano was correct all along that the version with the funky hip a bad image edit or...
By Moore's own lawyer's explanation, W in Korea had defamed Demi Moore by editing her image (which the lawyers insisted needed no editing)
Either way, at least one of those images was apparently edited, and Citrano's still waiting for that apology and retraction...
Tim K alerts us to the news that phone maker HTC has sent a cease & desist nastygram to the developers of an Android widget that certainly had a similar look and feel to HTC's own Sense UI. Except, many people claim that this newer widget, from LevelUp Studios, was actually better. LevelUp apparently has no interest in fighting this, and are ditching the widget, but it seems that they could have a decent argument here. The bigger question, though, is why HTC is bothering? I'm actually a big HTC fan. My last two mobile phones have both been from HTC, and I had been expecting my next one to be from HTC as well. But this sort of bullying for no good reason makes me wonder why I'd want to support a company like that. Honestly, what was HTC "losing" by letting this widget be created? This seems like bullying just for the sake of bullying.