Facebook has sued a teachbook.com, a site devoted to teachers and learning, because it has the word “book” in its name. The site looks nothing like Facebook and the site founders say they picked the word “book” because the site is about teachers and education.
I doubt that Facebook has a real trademark infringement case here, but it really doesn’t matter. Teachbook has 20 users and not much money. Simply defending themselves in a lawsuit would probably kill the company, so they’ll change their name, and Facebook will effectively own the word “book”.
They’re using the Disney book. Whoops.
Facebook is run by some young pricks drunk on the glory of their own success.
Yo La Tengo / Condo Fucks better watch out. I’m sure Facebook is not well pleased with the title of their album, Fuckbook.
Yes, it’s a real record.
As opposed to middle-aged and old pricks who should know better, but never do?
I deactivated my Facebook account this week because I was pissed about the whole marijuana legalization ad they refused thing. I don’t even smoke pot but I’m sick of these corporate assholes refusing paid ads, especially when they routinely load my e-mail inbox with Viagra spam.
Anyway, looks like it was a good move.
McDonalds sued a high end restaurant in Scotland owned by an actual Scottish McDonald over trademark infringement because it used the owner’s name.
There is no limit to the overweening arrogance of corporate Merka..
I’ve been trying to convince everyone to ditch FB for a couple of years now, because, well, anyone could smell their evil from a mile away.
But nobody listens to me..
I have been considering finally joining Facebook, but I have issues with that company and the way it operates. That said, Teachbook’s own description of itself seems a bit problematic to such a case:
Wonder if they would ever go after this site?
My hunch is no, because that is a social networking site for lawyers. Hey, here’s an idea, maybe Teachbook.com can team up with casebook.com – fairer fight?
You know who facebook should be suing for stealing their look?
Their redesign is a crime.
Hmm, from Teachbook’s policy
Well, by crackie, Facebook better get on the ball (so to speak).
For instance, with a little quick searching at Godaddy for domain names, I found there is a f*ckbook.com already registered.
claims it is “he biggest and best adult search engine on the internet. Complete descriptions of every site listed including thumbnails. ”
Facebook better get it up and get after these nefarious purveyors of porn using the precious Facebook copyrighted ‘book’ word.
Because Facebook owns the all-time global patent for communication?
Actually, I was just riffing on the notion that a social/professional networking website named *book may run into a bit of predictable trouble.
How about changing the name of this site to “Balloonbook”? Or, “Fuckyoufacebookbook”??
I hear Amazon sells books, perhaps they should be sued for diluting the branding of the word. Arseholes.
are they going to sue these guys, too?
and on and on.
delusions of grandeur. I find Facebook useful for what I use it for, but if it disappeared tomorrow, it wouldn’t really matter much to me. The whole hate on Facebook thing doesn’t interest me, but I am also sure that it will run its course like many other things have.
@Keith G: That said, what happens it Teachbook doesn’t hire a team of lawyers?
They fill out any requested paperwork by hand. They announce (on Facebook?) that they will show up on the day of the hearing and rep themselves and argue the common sense of the issue. Get a huge David v Goliath vibe going.
In the end they might lose, but the PR would be awesome.
@Keith G: Oh hell yeah. That’s how you fight a BS suit like this. On the cheap. Make ’em actually come to court and fight and bring their army of lawyers. Even if they win, they lose.
This reminds me of a case that made the international news last year: McDonalds sued a chicken curry restaurant in Kuala Lumpur that called itself “McCurry”. Mickey D claimed that they owned the whole “Mc” thing (which must have been news in Scotland and Ireland). Also that McCurry’s yellow lettering on a red sign meant that people might mistake the obviously local establishment for the international house of crappy burgers. Mickey D lost and got laughed at all over the world.
I also remember, vaguely, some halfhearted attempts by Microsoft to scare other people away from using the word “windows”, back in the early 1990s.
Facebook clearly doesn’t own the word “book”, and I don’t see how they’re going to win a lawsuit that depends on claiming they do.
I suppose it’s only a matter of time before Redbook Magazine sues Facebook for copping the “book” suffix from them.
Ash Wing League
Here’s the question I’m sure everyone’s thinking of: Will this be in the upcoming facebook movie?
Trademark law forces stuff like this to happen. Basically, owners of trademarks have a legal obligation to police their marks. If they don’t then the mark becomes diluted and can be gradually diminished, if not eliminated.
I obviously can’t speak for facebook in this instance, but I would be surprised if they actually intended to fight this in court. In fact, I bet they sent cease & desist letters to those other “___book” sites mentioned in this thread.
Like to see the billionaire pricks try to sue these people.
I am a trademark lawyer. There is no case here and any competent lawyer should be able to tell them this. Book is a generic descriptive word and it would be almost impossible for anyone to succeed in preventing anyone else using the word.
While someone who represents themselves has a “fool for a client,” it can be quite effective in nuisance situations. You have to do the tedious paperwork and such yourself, but in the age of the Internet, it’s even more doable than it used to be.
Also, one can ask around; there’s probably a paralegal in their social network; and those are the people who actually do all the work!
@dave: And no doubt, all they got for sending those cease-and-desist letters was polite, lawyerly replies that boiled down to, “Dear Facebook’s lawyer, GFY. Sincerely, …” As a layman, I ask: does that really do enough to protect a trademark?
@Amir_Khalid: There is nothing new under the sun. Over 20 years ago McDonald’s sued a hotel chain that wanted to use the brand name McSleep. They won, too.
Intellectual property law is complicated. My gut says that Teachbook is probably okay as a legal matter, although they’re being a little disingenuous to pretend that their name isn’t a riff on Facebook. While I’m sure they don’t have a million dollars to defend themselves, I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that Facebook is willing to expend unlimited resources in order to crush them beneath the virtual heel.
I’ll admit to not fully understanding the trademarking process, but I always thought certain phrases or notions that had been part of the collective cultural heritage were exempt from trademark protection. Then I went to work for a company that made a respiratory therapy device. They were actually able to trademark ‘so everyone can breath a little easier’ as their tag line. Still can’t understand what sort of logic would allow a single corporation to have ownership of a phrase/concept that has been part of our cultural experience since time immemorial. Who ultimately makes these decisions, some underpaid overworked bureaucrat just trying to clear paperwork of his/her desk? Is there a way to challenge questionable trademark assignations? I get the need to protect corporate identity, but this whole thing has really gotten out of hand.
I have read the article and the comments here and I have a couple thoughts:
A lot of companies have insurance for these types of situations, so if teachbook.com has insurance that will pay for their defense.
FB and TB were in discussions regarding the trademark when FB filed suit. FB may have filed suit because of statute of limitations concerns.
The casebook.com example is distinguisable from TB because most legal textbooks are referred to as casebooks (or hornbooks). TB has no analog in the education setting to my knowledge, so TB is a closer question. One solution might be to rename the site teachersedition.com, assuming the trademark has not already been taken.
Having said all that, if this suit had not been filed in California, I would offer to defend TB pro bono.
I can go one better than Facebook’s idiocy. Rupert Murdoch claims that he owns the SKY in Skype:
Personally, I intend to avoiding creating a social platform named:
It might be considered confusingly similar to The Company We Do Not Name, but which starts with Face and ends with a word involving words printed on paper and bound into volumes for people to read.
At this rate, we won’t even be able to say JEHOVAH…..
Yeah, that is pretty much how it works.
Years ago a large Mexican restaurant chain approached the law firm where I worked (then), and asked if we could sue a small local restaurant that was using their same name. Trademarks don’t travel outside of national borders — our client had registered its mark in Mexico, but not in the US, and therefore there was no legal trademark infringement. But after 15 years of the local restaurant using the name, our big client from Mexico was thinking about moving into the States and wanted to clear up who had actual title to the name in the US.
Legally, the small restaurant had actual title. They had gone ahead and registered it years ago.
So, they sent me in to find proof of “trade dress infringement.” It was awesome! I called up a buddy and a girlfriend, ran up a huge tab, bought every piece of tourist knick-knack crap the place sold, and rolled into the office the next day amazingly hungover with bags of T-shirts and a copy of their menu, which I stole.
We used this as a means to gin up a fake “controversy,” filed suit, and then called the small company up for a meeting. We told them that we would bury them if they didn’t agree to cede their rights to the name to our client, in exchange for granting them unlimited use and license to use it too.
At the meeting, their lawyer protested that we didn’t really have a case, and that the law was clear. “Yeah,” said my Senior Partner — and this was probably the most naked act of aggression I had ever seen displayed in negotiations — “yeah, you’re right. But it doesn’t make a difference. We have a shit-ton of money, and you don’t. We’ll keep this up until you guys have to declare bankruptcy, and then we’ll still win. Take the deal and save yourself.”
So . . . they took the deal. Our client was pleased, we had won.
But it was, of course, using the legal system as a weapon. It wasn’t about justice, it was about a Big Boy beating the crap out of a Little Guy. It was sickening, quite frankly.
And it was about that time I started thinking I had to get out of the game. And I did.
But still . . . that is how it works.
well so much for not being evil.
Reminds me when Adobe Illustrator software was becoming widespread. (early 90’s) There was talk that they were thinking of trademarking the word ‘illustrator.’ So then everyone in the graphic arts would never be able to use that word without adding a god-damned copyright symbol.
The relevant archival text here is Groucho Marx’s letter to Warner Bros. when Warner (which had released Casablanca) didn’t want to allow the Marxes to call their new movie A Night in Casablanca. A sample:
I’m not the type to come down on the side of big corporations much, but I think Teachbook’s claim that the name has nothing to do with Facebook is implausible. They set up the site sometime after May 2007, at which point Facebook was already open to the public., and they’re clearly in the business of online community. If they didn’t know about Facebook, they must have been hiding wherever Osama bin Laden is.
Regardless of what they knew, it seems like it has the reasonable potential to cause confusion. One tiny site isn’t a problem for Facebook, but some popular ones would be. And my understanding with trademarks is that, unlike copyright, you have to defend them vigorously or risk losing them.
So Facebook may not actually be being an asshole here. Or more precisely, even non-assholes in Facebook’s position might feel obliged to get Teachbook to switch to a name that has no potential for confusion. Which is what they should have done in the first place.
Just off the wire:
The Gutenberg Press sued Facebook today for using the word “book” in their product’s name. As spokesperson Reed Mai Novell said to reporters, “Everyone knows the Book came from Gutenberg, and so anything called Book is our trademark, our copyright, and your balls. Pay up, Facebook!”
If some small shit site like politico can copyright that why not is book out of the question?
Don’t even get me started on this topic. I loathe me some trademark bullies.
I’m far too lazy to point out all the ways in which this comment is stupid, so I’ll just say it’s stupid and let ED Kain bitch at me about epistemic cloture.
Michael E Sullivan
“well so much for not being evil. ”
Are you kidding? This is Facebook we’re talking about. The founders make Bill Gates look like a model citizen, and it’s been that way since before they were big. Not evil? They’ve been sociopaths from the get-go, and I don’t think anybody ever thought otherwise.
I’m starting a site called assbook. It’s a facebook clone with pictures of people’s asses for avatars instead of faces. I think it’s a huge market.
In a bit of charming irony, Redbook Magazine, which predates Facebook in the “book” suffix department by many decades (starting in 1929), has its own Facebook page:
Facebook not only has no case, this is a frivolous filing and is likely to get them socked with attorney’s fees. I hope Redbook intervenes and takes these assholes to the cleaners.
Ezra has his relatively new Wonkbook, which I’m reasonably sure was not inspired by Facebook. But it does have the word book in it. Ditto Waldenbooks, who were around long before either.
I don’t think FB has much of a case, if any. It’s not even as though people’s commonplace overuse of the word book, as with “kleenex”, had rendered it generic; rather, the word book was commonplace and generic for eons, long before the FB folks worked it into a product name.
Sounds too like Newt Gingrich’s record-keeping system to me.
BOOK BOOK BOOK BOOK BOOK BOOK BOOK BOOK BOOK. BOOK. BOOKBOOKBOOKBOOKBOOKBOOK!!! BOOKITY WOOKITY WOOK WOOK! BOOK BOOK BOOKEROO! BOOK! BOOOOOOOOOK!
That is all.
Well that could be a problem. Since 1984 the Library of Congress has had the Center for the Book and helped to establish similar things in each of the states. Hope they don’t get sued……
There actually is a website with that name also.
Wow, it’s Tim Langdell’s crusade all over again.
Their first choice was MonsterLearning.com
Tim in SF
As much as I loathe Facebook (here and here), and as much as they are the villains time and time again, I think they have a point in this case. This is a social network for teachers and they are calling it teachbook. Do you think that if there was no such website as Facebook, if Friendster still ruled the day, do you really think they would be calling their social media website “teachbook”? My guess is they would pick something along the lines of teachster.
Valiant Comics in the eighties had an exoskeleton-clad superhero called “X-O Manowar” and was threatened by Marvel, who said they had the rights to comics whose titles started with “X-.”
@Homeruk: I’m not an IP lawyer, but I took a class on it in law school and I thought the whole issue on trade name infringement was whether or not it would cause “customer confusion in the marketplace”. In this case, would people think “teachbook” is affiliated with facebook? Then the court gets way way into the facts of the matter, like a 14-part test or something, to determine that.
I know everyone hates fb for any number of reasons, but just from reading the description here it sounds like teachbook deliberately chose its name as a reference to facebook. And not to books. If their site sucks, I could see facebook wanting them to change their name [i.e. get their own name].
When this topic comes up I’m always reminded of what Isabella Rosselini said to David Letterman in the early 80s, before she was an actress, in response to the question “Does it bother you that people constantly confuse you with Nastassia Kinski?” She said that she welcomed the confusion, as Kinski was a good actress, and she herself was just a model, and that if anyone had something to lose by the confusion it would be Kinski.
Perhaps National Public Radio should sue Facebook for usurping their show’s name, To the Best Of Our Knowledge (ttbook.org)??
I guess they figure that if they let some small, no-threat site get away with using the word “book” (which they think they own, LOL) that will give other, more direct competitors the okay to use the same trope for knock-off sites.
Some years ago, the cheapjack bookstore chain Waldenbooks sued a small independent bookstore in Oakland, California, called Walden Pond Books, to make them stop using “Walden” in their name.
In fact, Walden Pond had used the name since before Waldenbooks had used it, and the suit failed; but not before costing the small independent big bucks.
In Dundee, Scotland, quite near the railway station, there used to be a fast food restaurant that had been there since the 1930s, a family-run business – two or three generations. The granddad who started the business was a McDonald, so naturally enough, his fast food restaurant was McDonald’s.
When McDonald’s came to Dundee, in the 1990s I think, they looked around the city and found this McDonald’s restaurant, and sent the owner, who was the granddaughter-in-law of the founder, a cease-and-desist letter telling her to change the name.
The owner looked up relevant dates and so on, and wrote back to McDonalds (and was smart enough to copy the local newspaper in on it) that her restaurant had been called McDonalds since before golden-arches McDonalds was founded, so if McDonald’s wanted to trade in Dundee, they were going to have to do so under another name: her restaurant had clear local priority to the trade name McDonald’s, pre-dating their use of it by a long way in the UK and by a few years worldwide. (I don’t know whether she actually paid a lawyer to write THEM a formal cease-and-desist letter, or whether that’s just become part of the Dundee legend about her.)
With a clear case like that, it wouldn’t have mattered HOW much McDonald’s spent on lawyers or case time: they’d have lost in court, and looked like worse fools doing it.
So what McDonald’s did instead was offer the owner a stackload of money to settle, and while it would have been fun to watch her fight it out in court and win, I can totally understand she thought of her retirement and she took the money and changed the name of her restaurant.