Google Trademark Bullies Obviously Non-Commercial Parody Site
from the no-need-to-do-this dept
They did not.
If you go to the link above, you now see a message from Peng! Collective, who put the site together for the Republica event in Berlin, saying that they didn't want to get involved in a big legal battle. Of course, the internet never forgets, and there are plenty of archives of the original.
The EFF has stepped in and sent a letter to Google on behalf of Peng! Collective questioning why Google decided to be a trademark bully over this, and reminding Google (and us) of the neat practice that Linden Lab pioneered years ago -- a proceed-and-permit letter instead of a cease-desist-letter on trademark issues.
The site is a pure political commentary. Indeed, its launch has long since been recognized as such by a variety of news organizations. U.S. authorities consistently support the basic notion that trademark law does not reach, much less prohibit, this kind of speech regarding a matter of substantial public concern. Simply put, "The Lanham Act regulates only economic, not ideological or political, competition . . . Competition in the marketplace of ideas is precisely what the First Amendment is designed to protect." ...There's even more in the letter, including the fact that since this all happened in Germany anyway, the Lanham Act (which governs trademark law in the US) doesn't even apply.
First, use of the Google name and logo on the site is fully protected by the nominative fair use doctrine.... Indeed, courts have noted that nominative fair uses are particularly likely to be found in parodies....
Second, given the content of the site, and the ample publicity the spoof has generated, all of which recognized as satirical and parodical commentary, it is difficult to imagine that any Internet user would be confused.
Third, the site is sheltered by the First Amendment.... Again, there is nothing on the site that would lead consumers to purchase goods or services based on a mistaken affiliation.
Finally, my client's action is entirely noncommercial and, therefore, statutorily exempt from the Lanham Act.
Either way it's disappointing to see Google go down this path. Yes, as trademark lawyers love to point out, unlike with other forms of intellectual property, there is more of a requirement that you actively protect your marks under trademark law, but (contrary to what some believe) this does not mean that you have to go after everyone using your mark, especially when it's clearly not infringing for all of the uses listed above.
As in nearly every case of trademark bullying, the end result just makes the bully look silly and legalistic, where they could have come out much more reasonable and accommodating. Hopefully, this time, Google learns its lesson on these kinds of things. Sure, the Google-Nest site was mocking Google, but big companies need to learn to not just have a sense of humor about these things, but to recognize that this is part of the public discussion and debate about their role in the world. Google could have jumped into that discussion or avoided it all together. But, it chose one of the worst options: to go with a threat.