Trademarks and Fair Use in Commentary

I have clients who operate websites that allow third-party content.  While NOT my clients, think about sites like Yelp, Twitter, Glassdoor, or even Facebook as examples. When you operate websites that allow other people to go online and write whatever they want, chances are you are going to see an allegation of Trademark Infringement via a cease and desist letter.  I typically see them in the context of someone alleging trademark infringement because someone is using the trademark to talk about them online – most often critically.  These cease and desist letters come in from attorneys (which I always raise an eyebrow at), reputation management companies (again which I raise an eyebrow at) and everyday people which I can better understand because many simply don’t have an understanding of this area of law.

Due to the overwhelming issues that I see with these cease and desist letters, I thought it might be good to cover some basics:

What is a Trademark?

A trademark is a word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof, that is used to distinguish the goods of one person from goods that are manufactured or sold by others.  Think of it as telling people the source of the goods.  Think of “Pepsi” or “The Home Depot” for example.  Those are trademarked words that clearly distinguishes them from other sources of goods like “Coca-Cola” or “Lowe’s.”

Protecting your Trademark.

It is important to police your trademark so as to keep it from falling by the way of generocide (death by becoming too generic due to its popularity and/or significance) or being counterfeited (knock-offs). A common example of generocide includes trademarks like “escalator” for the moving staircases.  If you are curious you can read more about generic trademarks.  A common example of trademark counterfeiting includes the cheap knock-off/fake Louis Vuitton handbags.  You know, the ones that look like it’s the real deal at first glance but any savvy fashionista knows better upon closer inspection.

Trying to use Trademark as a Reputation Management Method.

Yes, there are times when you should be policing your trademark as discussed above. However, just as I cannot talk about The Home Depot without saying “The Home Depot,” the same goes for anyone else wanting to talk (or write), good or bad, about a particular brand. Such use falls under what is called “nominative fair use” which applies when a person has used one’s trademark to describe or refer to the trademark holder’s product. As with most aspects of law there are caveats and tests, however, generally speaking, just because you have a registered trademark doesn’t mean that you can submit cease and desist letters and allege trademark infringement as a way to get websites to take down content critical of your business.  Chances are, in that context, it is NOT trademark infringement.

If you are in the state of Arizona and are looking for that solid “friend in the lawyering business” consider Beebe Law, PLLC!  We truly enjoy helping our  business clients meet and exceed their goals!  Contact us today.

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.  

 

Advertisements

Email Marketing | Non-Compliance with CAN-SPAM Can Be COSTLY!

So many businesses now rely on email marketing to help generate traffic and revenue. However, failure to comply with the rules set forth in the CAN-SPAM Act could be financially ruinous!

The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) explains that the CAN-SPAM Act “is a law that sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations.”  Just how tough of penalties you ask?  Try penalties up to $40,654for each separate email, found to be in violation!

Uneducated businesses owners, trying to save a buck by doing email marketing for themselves in lieu of a more traditional professional service, may very well unknowingly send out emails that are in violation of the rules set forth by the CAN-SPAM Act.  In fact, in spite of the connotation that might stem from its name, CAN-SPAM doesn’t just apply to email messages that are sent in bulk – you know, like what you would normally think of as “SPAM.”  The rules under the CAN-SPAM Act apply to ALL commercial email messages that are for the primary purpose of commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.  Even emails that are to a former customer, maybe announcing a new product or service, has to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act rules….or else…potential OUTRAGEOUS penalties.  Let’s assume that you email 100 former customers; those emails were not compliant with CAN-SPAM, and assuming maximum penalties would be awarded against you, that would be $4,065,400!  Yes, you read that right.

THE MATH:  100 (non-complying emails to people) x $40,654 (the maximum penalties for violation) = $4,065,400.

Fortunately the rules are not all that difficult to comply with and the FTC’s website has provided a Compliance Guide for Business.  The basics include the following:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines.
  3. Identify the message as an advertisement.
  4. Tell recipients where you are located.
  5. Tell recipients how they can opt out from receiving future email from you.
  6. Honor opt-out requests right away.

One other key thing to remember is EVEN IF you rely on someone else to do mass email marketing for you, YOU ARE STILL RESPONSIBLE!  You cannot turn a blind-eye to your advertising communications and expect to go unscathed if those communications do not comply with the law.

It is always a good idea to get a formal legal opinion on these kinds of matters if in doubt. If you are in the state of Arizona, and are seeking assistance with ensuring that your marketing emails, are in compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act, be it ones you created yourself or if you want to double check what your marketing vendor is doing,  Beebe Law, PLLC can help!  Contact us today.

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.