Discovery Channel Ignores Repeated Twitter Questions, Sends Content-Free Statement
from the shark-week-is-over dept
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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
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.