Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Verizon tries to stop sale of VerizonMath T-Shirts!

Verizon is trying to shut down our sale of VerizonMath parody T-Shirts. It seems they think we may be cutting into their T-Shirt sales as a competitor. As if someone might somehow get them confused.

See the T-Shirts for sale (at cost) here.

Your opinions and ideas are welcome and appreciated.

PLEASE digg the story here !

Here's the email:

From: patrick.m.flaherty@verizon.com <patrick.m.flaherty@verizon.com>
Date: Jan 9, 2007 6:08 PM
Subject: Unauthorized Use of the Trademarks VERIZON and the VERIZON Logo
To: info@bluefishtshirts.com, jdean@bluefishtshirts.com
Cc: janis.manning@verizon.com


This email is being sent on behalf of Janis M. Manning, Esquire, Verizon's
Assistant General Counsel – Trademarks & Copyrights.

Dear Mr. Dean:

Please see the attached correspondence.

Very truly yours,

Janis M. Manning

(See attached file: Blue Fish T-Shirts Letter 010907.pdf)

Janis M. Manning, Esquire
Assistant General Counsel – Trademarks & Copyrights
Verizon Corporate Services Group Inc.
1515 North Court House Road, Suite 500
U.S.A.
Phone: 703-351-3080
Fax: 703-351-3669
Email: janis.manning@verizon.com

___________________________________
Patrick M. Flaherty
Counsel - Trademarks & Copyrights
Verizon Corporate Services Corp.
1515 North Court House Road, Suite 500\n
Arlington, Virginia 22201, U.S.A.
tel: 703 351 3020
fax: 703 351 3669
email: patrick.m.flaherty@verizon.com

49 comments:

Eric said...

My opinion: get a lawyer's opinion.

haeresis said...

You can't blame them, for trying...but parodies aere protected and there's nothing they can do except threaten.

The Nexus said...

They dont have a leg to stand on, they know it, but unfortunately they have the funds to pour into this, and you dont, and you need to decide if you want to/can afford to fight this or not.

The above text should not be taken as fact, or in place of the advice of a legal professional, no guarantee is offered or implied by the poster.

Legion said...

I agree with eric on this one, though haeresis has a good point. I don't see why their lawyer thought it was a good idea to send you several pages that were completely black... I haven't been to the actual site yet, but I assume it's in a darker colour.

You know what this means, though - gotta go buy the shirts quickly. They'll become collectors items.

Oh, and if there are any lawyer types reading this, would you mind explaining to me why they think they can sue when they've copyrighted "Verizon", and the shirts say "Revizon"? I thought as long as the words were different there was nothing they could do.

As to the part about "There is no justification for your company's unauthorized use of the VERIZON Marks.", I think this website counts as justification.

Eric said...

I believe the problem would be that your "Z" looks basically the same as the Verizon "Z". When making a parody it's usually important to make it crystal clear that the shirt does not belong to the company you are parodying. That distinction may be decided by a judge who is biased one way or the other. In any case, when you get such a letter it's always a good idea to have a lawyer.

Big Big News said...

contact the EFF, they'll give you the straight word in a flash.
i bet you're in the clear, but check first.

cheers,
http://bigbignews.net

mjrbacin said...

Just make new shirts that say "Were not Cryizon whinerless!!"

Loris said...

Suck it up and pay your bill, dirtbag.

adsf said...

I heard about this a while ago, but I finally listened to the audio.

It's almost unbelievable.

Andrew Taylor said...

"You can't blame them, for trying...but parodies [are] protected and there's nothing they can do except threaten."

As soon as I saw this I knew someone would start the cries of "parody is fair use" and it's not true. It's true for copyrights, but this is a trademark issue, and trademark law has no parody clause. Also, companies are obliged to protect trademarks because they can lose them if they don't.

Not being able to see the letter, I don't know where you stand on this, but I'd think if the logo is a registered trademark then you probably should stop selling the ones with the full logo on. Otherwise you're probably safe.

rahlquist said...

Contact the EFF but here is what our company legal counsel has told me conversationally in the past.

If you were to trademark the name Blasterino for the name of your multimedia electronics company you would have to vigorously defend that trademark against any other company that produced similar products or services. However, if I created a sub shop named Blasterino that simply made sandwiches then I too could trademark that name.

Try this if your curious, go to the uspto web site and do a trademark for Live trademarks on the word pike. You will see that there are quite a few companies that have Pike trademarked, one is a canadian electronics company (78676923) and the other is baby clothing (78905364) and another is bike parts and clothing (78260159).

So while you may take this with a grain of salt try getting a hold of the EFF and/or an attorney just to cover your bases but in my non expert advice I would say youre 100% in the clear.

mathew said...

Andrew Taylor is correct. There's no parody exemption in trademark law, which is a big problem for freedom of speech.

For an example, see Negativland's album "Dispepsi", which was sold with scrambled cover art and no title because they feared trademark prosecution.

RJ said...

gosh. yeah, parodies should be protected for freedom of speech. after all, i think the functions of protecting trademarks should just be something like to disallow others to misrepresent them. it shouldn't be to hamper the expression of one's opinions. that is why parodies are used after all - to refer to something else indirectly so as to avoid confusion that these are official statements from the owners, right? so how else are we legally allowed to refer to something when we want to voice out an opinion about it?

of course, i'm just thinking out loud here. i have no background on law and such.

Andrew Taylor said...

rahlquist:

I'd forgotten about that -- the whole Apple Vs Apple thing last year being a prime example. Can it apply to logos as well as names, though? A logo has a bit more design put into it than simply sticking a pin in a dictionary.

rj:

There is a distinction. I mean, Verizon could never shut down this site simply for using their (presumably trademarked) name, but selling T-shirts with other people's logos on is probably considered a different thing.

All that said, I'd not be at all surprised if the very first thing a lawyer told you was "well, for god's sake delete this post and all the comments for a start".

RJ said...

andrew taylor:

i know they can't rationalize disallowing use of their names in a discussion such as here. i am also referring to voicing out opinions through other forms such as, in this case, using t-shirts.

people buying those shirts can only do so here, right? so i don't see how anyone can possibly be confused that these shirts are parodies. thus, if they buy them it is because these are what they want to voice out as their opinion. so there should be no misunderstanding that the resemblances present here were meant to misrepresent the owners. it is not so different as if these people went out and printed the shirt themselves or each individual had their own custom shirts made because it all remains the same that they merely want to voice their opinion on their shirt. the source is not the primary concern. that's the freedom of speech i was concerned about in this situation. how can we legally achieve that?

Dale said...

This keeps getting better.

Is there any way of finding out how many shirts have been sold?

I'm glad VeriZon reacted to this. They're keeping it alive. Good job VeriZon.

Doug said...

I can't say I haven't experienced similar problems with Verizon:
http://doug.ericson.dyns.net/verizon.html

Chrystalline said...

There is no confusion about the non-relationship between your T-Shirts and Verizon, and from what I have read about past trademark disputes, that's a key element in winning a case. Of course, I am not a lawyer - I don't even play one on TV.

EFF, as mentioned earlier, is a good starting point. Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts might also be a good option. It's not technically "the arts" but we are talking about a graphic design, so it kinda fits. What's more, given the relatively high profile of this situation, you may be able to get an experienced IP lawyer to take you on just for the publicity.

Verizon is throwing their weight around, and there are enough people watching that this could become a hideous PR suicide. If this does go to court, people are going to start talking about it on major mainstream media, because there are too many people already watching it to let it go unnoticed.

pcdebb said...

this is great, i'm buying at least two shirts. I simply cant believe they cant tell the difference here!!

John said...

Please investigate a similar case by searching "Prarie Ho Companion".

The mark is protected. However, this case is more compelling because it's a criticism of a predatory, um, ignorance. I personally am scared to death of Verizon now. I can't imagine ever trusting them to bill me fairly.

Ryan said...

Hmm, didn't figure...

Chip said...

I just sent Patrick Flaherty a rather rude letter essentially saying that he's a dumbass and no one in their right mind will confuse the Verizon mark with the parody-based (and very different) artwork on the VerizonMath t-shirt.

I doubt he'll respond, but perhaps it will make him think.

The FedEx guys went aggressively after the FedExFurniture.com guy and threatened to sue him into oblivion... until it hit the media, after which they acted like the whole thing never happened and he never heard another word.

I suspect the same will happen here... and for good measure, I provided Mr. Flaherty with a link to the history of the FedEx Furniture debacle.

Paul said...

George,

Hop over to http://www.chillingeffects.org to check out what they have to say about trademark C&D letters. There is such thing as fair use and parody of a trademark is allowed. I can't say if you're t-shirt is covered, but if you submit your C&D letter to them, they will at the very least pick it apart and explain it. If chilling effects gets your letter, it may get the attention of someone who can help you with it.

96Boiler said...

Too bad this is registered ... it would make a good shirt. :)

Worry Free Guarantee®
As a Verizon Wireless customer...

If you ever have a problem, it becomes our problem the first time you call.
No run-around, no hassles. If your issue can't be resolved during the course of your first call, we'll get back to you with an answer.

http://www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/globalText?textName=WORRY_FREE_GUARANTEE&jspName=support/worryFree.jsp

George Vaccaro said...

@all

Thank you for all the posts! I'm sorry I have not been able to respond to each one individually lately. I've been in the middle of a relocation.

@paul, great link - very appropriate. I just posted this incident there. We'll see what comes of it. Thanks!

George Vaccaro said...

@96boiler

bruce a. alerted me to that a while back and I updated my Open Letter to Verizon Wireless Management to include it. I think its very pertinent. In my case, Peter's and others that have been posted here, its clear that verizon did not live up to that guarantee.

Thanks for the post.

Justin said...

This is most certainly covered under parody law. If you can afford it, I would seek legal counsel and fight it.

Cherrybark said...

I couldn't resist sending an email to lawyer Manning.

Dear Counselor

After hearing the recording of several levels of Verizon Customer and Technical support struggle to understand the basic mathematics of decimal numbers, I followed the trail to Mr George Vaccaro's web site to see how the story concluded. There I found a series of communications from Verizon including your own warning about the unauthorized use of Verizon's Trademark and Logo.

I am constantly amazed at the clumsiness Corporate America exhibits when dealing with the web. As B'er Rabbit learned, the more you struggle, the more you become entangled in the Tar Baby. The more noise you make, the more attention you draw and the sillier you and your client appear. Thumping your chests and writing formal, threatening letters certainly "tarnishes Verizon's reputation" which would appear not to be in your office's best interests.

Best Regards,

Carl Strange, Esquire

akohler said...

"... the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright."
USC Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 107
http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode17/usc_sec_17_00000107----000-.html

Trademark law is similar, in that trademark usage can generally only be prosecuted if it is being "diluted", such that you were competing with Verizon and your use of their trademark was in an attempt to confuse or defraud consumers.

On the other hand, these days many US courts don't seem to care about "Fair Use", which means that Verizon could drag you into court and they might actually win, even though they are wrong.

Over the past few years, literally hundreds of these situations have occurred, many with the companies winning in court, despite the law.

The Illegal Art Web site is a chronicle of these scenarios.

Here's what the Illegal Art website says about artist Keiron Dwyer:

"In 2000, a year after Kieron Dwyer made comic books, t-shirts, and stickers with his version of the Starbucks logo, the company sued him, obtaining an injunction that prevented Dwyer from using the parody until the case was scheduled to go to court over a year later. When the case was finally settled, Dwyer was allowed to continue displaying his logo but only in extremely limited circumstances. No more comic books, t-shirts, or stickers: he may post the image on the web but not on his own website -- nor may he link from his website to any other sites that show the parody. In short, Dwyer is permitted to use the logo as long as Starbucks can be confident that no one will see it. "

For more info, see:
http://www.illegal-art.org/

For more information of the fight to keep Fair Use free, see:
http://www.eff.org/IP/

akohler said...

Hello, (again)
I just wanted to let you know that I sent the following email to the EFF, the ACLU, Dr. Lawrence Lessig, Public Knowledge, the Fair Use Network, and the Center for Social Media. I would recommend contacting them yourself, as well. The EFF, the ACLU and the Fair Use Network all have legal departments. Discussing the letters you received with an attorney who is well versed in these issues could save you a lot of trouble later on. (Just my $0.02)
___________

Hello,
I am a longtime member and supporter.

I am writing you because I have been following the Verizon Math
story, which you may or may not be familiar with, for the past month. It has
been mentioned on Slashdot, TechDirt, and digg.

Anyway, a recent post on the Verizon Math blog:

http://verizonmath.blogspot.com/2007/01/verizon-tries-to-stop-sale-of.html--

notes that the Verizon legal Department is threatening the blogger with legal
action over the use of their name and trademark on his incident parody T
Shirts.

As this is a case of IP Fair Use/Trademark Law, as well as bloggers' rights, I thought that you
might be interested.

-A.K.

BlueFishTShirts.com said...

Thanks to everyone for the tremendous support, valuable links, and letters to Verizon's counsel voicing your objections to their bullying. However, I just wanted to make one thing clear so that you can be fully informed when writing different agencies, or Verizon about the situation. The letter from Verizon's counsel was not sent to George Vaccaro and Verizon is not currently threatening to sue him. The letter was instead directed to me and BlueFishTShirts.com. We are the makers of the VerizonMath tshirt and the tshirts are for sale on our site. We are hoping to fight this obvious misuse of power, but may not be able to do so without the help of the EFF or a generous trademark attorney. We will try to keep the shirts for sale as long as we can, however please mention in your letters that Verizon is threatening to sue us and not George Vaccaro - just so that everyone can be clear on where help is needed. Thanks again for the support.

ichthys said...

Time for a legal council donation pot.

akohler said...

@bluefishtshirts.com
Sorry for the misunderstanding, I provided everyone with the link here so they can get the update.

Also, I wanted to let everyone know that I've started receiving positive responses to my letters. I don't have permission to reprint them, but I will keep you up to date.

It appears that after the initial story died down, this hasn't been getting much publicity, as the people I talked to weren't aware of this development. It might help to raise some "hue and cry". Starting a legal defense fund might not be a bad idea, as well, in case this gets more serious.

chablis said...

Funny that buy.com can't tell dollars from cents either.

Annandale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Annandale said...

I just posted on my blog about an incident I had with T-Mobile that resulted in a similar outcome (I owe them money despite receiving no services from them). I am so pissed and despite our legal system I really don't think I have any recourse besides paying them. Corporations just have too much money and lawyers cost too much for it to be worth what you could save.

T-Dogg said...

So, curious to know...

Verizon's deadline was January 19, but I see that the shirts are still available. Any action on their part yet?

Wondering if they have as much trouble with calendar numbers as they do moving decimal points around. ;)

BlueFishTShirts.com said...

We have consulted with a trademark attorney and do not believe we are in the wrong, so we have decided to keep the shirts up until they stop selling (although we have removed any reference to Verizon itself.) We have not received any response from Verizon since their initial cease and desist.

Kelly Hawk said...

Wow. Much hu-bub. Excellent!

The fight between the consumer voice and corporate bullies is always fascinating. Particularily in this case where it would seem the corporate bully is standing in quicksand.

Kudos to bluefishtshirts.com for not running at the first sight of the c&d letter. I'm impressed.

Kelly Hawk said...

Noting my above comment..I've just returned from bluefishtshirts.com where I noted that they have - yes, you guessed it - bluefishtshirts t-shirts.

I will be sure to add one of those to my order. ;)

Andrew Taylor said...

If they've not got back to you since then then it's probable that they just used the cease and desist letter to try and scare you into stopping.

BlueFishTShirts.com said...

Still no word from Verizon. Looks like they realized that we aren't going to back down from this one. Verizon even sent a cease and disist to one of the printing companies we use, telling them not to print shirts for us with the VerizonMath designs. The company told them to go to hell. :) VerizonMath tshirts are here to stay.

lstorm2003 said...

Check out the email I sent to the verizon lawyer.. this outta get his attention:

There is a car dealership down by me that is selling these shirts in their gift shop and I bought 20 of them.

I play the tape for people, then after they stop laughing I offer them a shirt at a $10 profit per shirt to myself! Its great!

"well if you write it on paper its the same thing" OMG thats classic! what idiots! c'mon you know you lauged too the first time you heard it.. or you might've cried I don't know...

But take heart Verizon, I'm sure Cingular call center agents are no better.

My $0.02. Or in Revizon math, that would be $2. LOL!

Spencer said...

I enjoyed the blatant advertising from the legal department. "We're going to sue you. Btw, have you seen our great deals?"

mahesh said...

I got Verizoned! This just happened to me! I called Dominion (www.dom.com), a provider of electricity. i was considering a switchover to them from NStar, the company I currently use. The customer service rep did not understand the difference between cents and dollars, and as a bonus, did not understand that KW (power) and KWH (energy) were two very different things. Here's the letter I sent to their customer service.

"Your customer service is terrible. I called in to get more info to see whether i wanted to switch over my residential service from Nstar. Not only did your service rep talk down to me, he also imparted erroneous information on TWO counts: (1) equating KW to KWH. these are NOT the same. KW is a unit of power and KWH is a unit of energy. furthermore, (2) he stated repeatedly that the charge was .1065 cents per KWH. i tried explaining to him that .1065 cents is NOT the same as 10.65 cents, and that $0.1065 IS the same as 10.65 cents. however, this bit of math was also beyond him, and he gave me some inane answers about "apples to apples". very disappointed, and glad that i am not your customer."

Narender said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Narender said...

Sorry pasting it little late but see this one is something too crapy..from Verizon behalf...See I have a new site: ie www.diggpoint.com ..now after going through your story it appears that I too have to prepare of some action from digg...!!!! Isn't this is weird from their behalf...See the earlier example of utube and youtube...
There actions are really questionable..Your standing is absolutely correct.

RejectKid said...

Can you still buy one of the shirts? the site is down and such, i know this is an old thing but im just now hearing about it. and i would love to buy one!

George Vaccaro said...

#RejectKid

I have a couple. If you want to send me your size I might be able to scrounge one up. Email me. VerizonMath at gmail dot com.