A Nesting Doll Of Stupidity: Rudy Giuliani's Twitter Typo Leads To Bogus Trademark Threat Letter

from the this-timeline-is-so-stupid dept

Another day, another crazy trademark story. As you may recall, back in December we wrote about how President Trump's personal lawyer, and former NYC mayor, Rudy Giuliani -- who considers himself a cybersecurity expert -- made an utter fool of himself. It started with him making a typo in a tweet, in which he left out a space after the period ending a sentence. The second sentence started with "In" but after a period it became ".in" which is the TLD for India. Someone then registered that domain and pointed it to a site critical of Trump. Rather than recognize he made a typo, Giuliani ridiculously tweeted that Twitter had "allowed someone to invade my text with a disgusting anti-President message." Except that didn't happen. Incredibly, months later, Giuliani's nonsense tweet is still up.

This resulted in people hunting through previous Giuliani tweets, and they discovered that Giuliani had made a similar typo with a similar autolink effect a few months earlier for the URL "collusion.so" specifically with this text:

#REALNEWS: Woodward says no evidence of collusion.So does Manafort’s team. Mueller can investigate endlessly and he will find no evidence. The only conspiracy,using criminal means, is the campaign to stop and then remove President Trump.

Someone astutely registered collusion.so and pointed it to Lawfare's coverage of connections between Trump and Russia. It was all a good fun internet joke thing.

So what could this possibly have to do with crazy trademark claims? Well... clothing brand Asos apparently launched a clothing line called "Collusion" around the same time as Giuliani's original tweet, and its brain-dead clueless lawyers decided that the registration of collusion.so was clearly infringement, and sent a very silly cease and desist letter. Thankfully, whoever registered the domain asked EFF to represent them in responding, and EFF certainly responded:

As you will see, it would be difficult to imagine a set of circumstances further removed from trademark infringement than our client’s registration of the collusion.so domain. The story begins with Rudy Giuliani, former New York mayor and current attorney to President Donald Trump. Last year, some Twitter users noticed that Mr. Giuliani was making typographical errors in his tweets in a way that inadvertently created well-formed URLs. A September 15, 2018 tweet read, in part, as follows: “#REALNEWS: Woodward says no evidence of collusion.So does Manafort’s team.”

Our client noticed that Mr. Giuliani had inadvertently tweeted the URL “collusion.so” and decided to register the domain name. As a comment on U.S. politics, our client chose to direct the URL to the Lawfare blog’s collection of articles regarding connections between President Trump and Russia. Our client has no association with the Lawfare blog.

The registration of collusion.so received some press coverage.

[....]

In your letter, you write that the COLLUSION mark is the “ultimate youth label” and explain that ASOS recently launched a clothing line under this brand. You claim that our client is “taking unfair advantage of ASOS’ reputation in the COLLUSION brand and the COLLUSION trade mark by luring customers to your website for your own gain.” These allegations are ludicrous.

Trademark infringement requires, “use in commerce [of a] copy, or colorable imitation of a registered mark in connection with the sale, offering for sale, distribution, or advertising of any goods or services on or in connection with which such use is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive.” 15 U.S.C. § 1114(1)(a). Our client’s registration of the collusion.so mark for an act of sardonic political commentary is not a “use in commerce” subject to trademark law. See Koch Indus., Inc. v. Does, 2:10CV1275DAK, 2011 WL 1775765, a *7 (D. Utah May 9, 2011). Moreover, there is no possible claim of confusion regarding your client’s youth clothing line. Visitors to the collusion.so domain are directed to a website that relates to the dictionary (and contemporary political) meaning of “collusion.” See Informa Business Information, Inc. v. Privacydotlink Customer 640040 / Domain Manager, Web D.G. Ltd., WIPO Case No. D2017-1756 (denying UDRP complaint where “disputed domain name [was registered] for its generic or descriptive value and has not used it in a manner that trades off the Complainant’s trade mark rights”).

While you might not have been expected to know the entire story behind collusion.so, two facts would have been immediately apparent if your firm had performed a cursory investigation before sending its letter. First, a simple WHOIS search reveals that our client registered collusion.so on September 16, 2018, which is before your client launched the COLLUSION clothing line. As your own letter explains, ASOS launched its COLLUSION line on October 1, 2018. Second, if you had visited collusion.so you would have seen that it directs visitors to a page about the alleged political collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. From these facts, it should have been apparent that the registration of collusion.so did not in any way relate to your client’s business and was not trademark infringement.

EFF senior staff attorney Daniel Nazer has no interest in letting Asos lawyer, Stobbs, off easy either:

I note with some concern that your law firm appears to have a history of abusive trademark complaints and reverse domain hijacking. Reverse domain name hijacking means “using the [UDRP administrative process] in bad faith to attempt to deprive a registered domain-name holder of a domain name.” See Rules For Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, Rule 1 definitions.

In Virgin Enterprises Limited v. Domain Admin/This Domain is for Sale, Hugedomains.com, WIPO Case No. D2017-1961, Stobbs IP represented the complainant. The Panel found that “the Complaint was made in bad faith as an attempt at Reverse Domain Name Hijacking, constituting an abuse of this administrative proceeding.” Id. The Panel further noted that “[t]he Complainant must have realized that the disputed domain name was one out of many combinations of descriptive words” that that it “cannot monopolize all combinations of dictionary words with the term “virgin.”” Id.; see also Informa Business Information, supra (Panel made finding of reverse domain name hijacking); The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge v. Kirkland Holdings LLC, WIPO Case No. D2015-1278 (Panel found “[s]ufficient grounds for a finding of abuse plainly exist”).

It appears that your firm has not learned the lesson of these cases and is continuing to make abusive trademark threats. At a minimum, your firm should conduct an investigation before sending demand letters like the one sent to our client. We urge you to be more responsible when sending trademark cease and desist letters in the future.

Not surprisingly, Asos backed down almost immediately:

Asos contacted EFF to apologize for the cease and desist letter. Asos said the letter should never have been sent and assured us that it would take no further action against our client. We welcome the apology and hope that this case serves as an example to others who might send careless or overbroad trademark threats.

This is, of course, a good end result, but the company should know better than to (a) hire a law firm known for abusing trademark law in such a manner, and (2) approve the original sending of the threat letter.

Filed Under: collusion, collusion.so, rudy giuliani, threats, trademark
Companies: asos, eff


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  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 24 Jan 2019 @ 3:28pm

    Well... clothing brand Asos apparently launched a clothing line called "Collusion" around the same time as Giuliani's original tweet

    Do you ever read one of these articles, and you see something halfway down that's not really the main point of the article, but is tangentially related, and you just have to ask yourself "why would they even do that?!?"

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2019 @ 4:42pm

      Re:

      … and you just have to ask yourself "why would they even do that?!?"

      Sorry to be a bore, but there's an utterly prosaic explanation. In order to understand, you just have to be able to put yourself in the mental space of marketing, sifting throught the trending topics, angling for keywords. Read the graphical charts to see what the masses look for.

      Right now,   #Collusion is HOT.

      So you pick up on the hotness for a client's brand. Make a few bucks, then smoothly flow along to the next cutting edge.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 26 Jan 2019 @ 4:01am

      Re:

      I have experienced that sort of feeling before, yes.

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

  • icon
    BentFranklin (profile), 24 Jan 2019 @ 3:52pm

    What a bunch of asos.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2019 @ 3:54pm

    dope

    ...but but Giuliani is a famous attorney, Federal Prosecutor and NYC Mayor.
    It's impossible for licensed lawyers and lauded politicians to be such dopes -- since those kind of people run America!

    Luckily, U.S. election processes screen dopey lawyers/politicians from being elected to office (?)

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2019 @ 7:17pm

    OMG

    There's a clothing brand called collusion? Has anyone told SNL?

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 24 Jan 2019 @ 10:39pm

      Re: OMG

      Indeed, the jokes practically write themselves.

      Customer: Hello, I heard that there was a new line of clothing out, 'Collusion', I was wondering where in the store that was?

      Employee: I'm sorry, there's no such brand, whoever told you there was lying.

      Customer: Hold on, isn't the sign for it just right over there? I think I can see at least one rack with the name from here.

      Employee, voice getting louder: Sir, I can assure you, there is no such clothing line, and even if there were I have no doubt that it would include only a few minor items like a sock or two.

      Customer: No, now that I look closer looks like a few racks worth of clothing.

      Employee, getting increasingly desperate: Sir, I can only say that whoever told you about so so-called 'Collusion' clothing line was engaging in a cruel joke. Even if there were a clothing line of that name, and even if there were several pieces to it, I'm sure those pieces would be of extremely poor quality, flimsy enough that you can practically see through them there's so little there.

      Customer: I dunno, even from here they look pretty solid to me. I'll just head over there to double-check.

      Employee, flustered and glancing at the clock: I'm sorry Sir, but I'm afraid the store is closing for unforeseen reasons, and we won't be able to make any sales for the foreseeable future while we... remodel. Yes, management just called in and said that it's vital that we remodel the store right now, so I'll have to ask you to leave immediately.

      Customer: Wait, what?

      Employee, pushing Customer towards the doors: Yes, truly unfortunate, but that's just how it goes. Off you go now.

      Customer, standing outside the now closed doors of the store with a confused look on their face, turns to look at the store just in time to see a hastily written note taped to the glass, with the text 'ABSOLUTELY NO COLLUSION TO BE FOUND, AND CERTAINLY NOT IN THIS STORE' written in large letters.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2019 @ 10:38am

      Re: OMG

      I always thought it'd would work better as a perfume line.


      What's that? <sniff> smells like collusion!

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

  • icon
    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), 25 Jan 2019 @ 3:09am

    Should they?

    but the company should know better than to (a) hire a law firm known for abusing trademark law in such a manner, and (2) approve the original sending of the threat letter.

    But why should they? Is there any useful disincentive beyond the occasional bullying object that fights and the occasional denied claim that would convince them otherwise?

    Or did you mean in the "reasonable human" sense?

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

  • icon
    Gary (profile), 25 Jan 2019 @ 6:34am

    Single Word?

    What is this with single word trademarks of common words? How can that even be considered a valid thing by the trademark office?

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


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