Dutch Phone Book Publisher Uses Trademark Bullying In Attempt To Shut Down Critic

from the no,-that's-German-for-'the-phone-book,-the' dept

Mike recently discussed the ridiculous assertion that copyright can't be used for censorship, despite the fact that it has clearly been used to do exactly that multiple times. And it's not just copyright being waved around by IP thugs like a Louisville Slugger with a © on the sweet spot. Claims of trademark infringement have been used as a handy beating implement in attempts to silence criticism (like "[x] company sucks" sites) or keep a competitor from detailing the superiority of its product.

Fortunately, infringement claims like these rarely succeed in doing anything more than driving more eyeballs to the offending content. Another attempt to "swing for the fences" with the trademark bat has resulted in the plaintiff hitting itself squarely in the face, this time over in the Netherlands. This particular self-beating revolves around a relic from days past know as "The Phone Book."

Much like in the US, everyone in the Netherlands receives a phone book whether they want one or not. (Fortunately, it looks like the Dutch only receive one, unlike many metro areas, where two or three phone books [minimum] are crammed into mailboxes or dumped unceremoniously on doorsteps every year. And it's not just a "big city" problem. I live in a town of 1,300 and I get three [3][!] phone books every year.) You can opt out, but the phone book publisher would very much rather you didn't. 24oranges has more details on one man's fight against the wishes of the dying [via Overlawyered]:
To help stop this form of harassment, a guy called Alexander Klöpping has registered a URL called sterftelefoongidssterf.nl(diephonebookdie) which redirects to the phone book cancellation form. In other words, if you want the phone book to be eliminated (‘die’) from your life, follow that link.
Or don't follow it. 24oranges points out that De Telefoongids has been known to ignore cancellation requests. Also this: the URL is no longer live. (Thanks to Google Cache, you can still enjoy the heady rush of a URL redirect. WHEE!!!)

And that's all Klöpping's URL did: redirect users to the cancellation form on De Telefoongids' website. Apparently, using "telefoongid" in the URL was somehow a "trademark violation" and Klöpping was ordered to cease and desist. Klöpping wasn't having it:
Klöpping replied that he will take the URL offline as soon as the dead tree merchant stops shoving the equivalent of “months of advertising leaflets”, and “half a percent of all paper used in the Netherlands” through everybody’s mailboxes, including those of people that have indicated they want to receive no advertisements through the legally binding “ja-nee” and “nee-nee” stickers (yes-no and no-no).
When the continued success of your business relies on ignoring "legally binding stickers," perhaps it's time to reconsider your distribution plan. Selling advertising space in redundant stack of paper is tough, but ignoring both stickers and your own webform is only going to get you dragged into court, rather than the other way around.

It didn't take long for De Telefoongid's bullying tactics to turn into self-inflicted wounds. Within 24 hours of the public dustup, the Dutch parliament called for making the phone book opt-in, something that should be implemented worldwide. Of course, some people still use the phone book and by all means, they should still receive one. Until opt-in becomes the norm, the rest of us can continue to use them as paperweights, booster seats, kindling and conversation starters to aid in engaging our sullen teens and tweens.
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Filed Under: critic, netherlands, phone book, speech, trademark

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  1. icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), 20 Sep 2012 @ 3:16pm

    Re: Moar uses!

    They're also good at propping up easy-chairs which've lost a leg...

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