Trademark ‘Violators’ in a Connected Era

If someone were to come up with an Encyclopedia of Lessons Learned it would surely run into volumes. I would love to help edit it!

Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson bring up one more case of how companies get it wrong when trying to protect their brand by trying to silence a fan and calling it “infringement.”  (Check out For Immediate Release podcast. Show # 705)

The case involved Nutella, and a fan who started something called World Nutella Day, created by one Sara Rosso. It reminded me of a case involving the line “Eat More Kale,” that was completely different, in terms of not using a brand, but “infringing” on its tagline. (I understand that advertisersconsider taglines as “intellectual property” even when they are really  sharable markers, not some protected species.)

I interviewed Bo Mueller Moore for a section in my book that talks about “speaking out of turn” and why we do it. The reason these cases resonate with me is because I was the recipient of one of these silly, corporate Cease-and-Desist letters myself, way back in 2000. I know first hand, what it means when a fan-boy (or fan girl, in Rosso’s case) is asked to shut up, or face a battery of lawyers.

You could find more about this, in Chat Republic.

But to get back to the podcast, it features an excellent discussion on why, especially (but not exclusively) in an age of social media, companies should strongly think through what they are really trying to lock down: The brand identity, or the conversations arround it? I didn’t know this, but Shel Holtz, who once worked for Mattel, referred to how the company had tried to sue the band Aqua, for a song called “Barbie Girl” –in 1997.

In 2009, Mattel did an about turn. It sanctioned and released a music video with the song.

A sobering thought for anyone considering firing off a cease-and-desist, today.

Cross-pollinating content benefits you, me, Mark and Rupert

Two things made me think about how content might begin to flow across networks.

The first was watching Charlene Li at South By Southwest (the video) ask about ‘what will it take Faceboook and MySpace, Google and Yahoo play nice, and allow us to migrate data backa and forth.

The second a news item I heard Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson talk about, where The Guardian is letting developers access its API use its Open Platform to re-purpose content.

This is where all media organizations have been hesitant to go, because they see their content as the crown jewels. I don’t blame them, for now. But what happens when content tends to get created by people outside the organization? By freelancers, by citizen journalists who are so coveted by everyone from the CNNs of this world to local newspapers. Wouldn’t they want to take their content with them, to their Facebook page or blog? Facebook is learning this the hard way –via Facebook protests like this!

It’s coming to a point when cross-pollinated content –for want of a better term– will be more valuable than the original. That’s why the mash-up video is so much more compelling than the original ad, the curated content and the RSS feed more rewarding than a visit to the source.

If you take this blog post and add a new dimension to it, add a few links, sidebars and comments, my readers might find it more interesting than the original piece. Yes, we are going to bump into copyright issues, but along the way we are going to learn to ‘play nice’ as Charlene said.

Speaking of which, just today, the copyright owner Rob Cottingham, emailed me to say how much he loved the use of his cartoon in a post about Twitter on IABC xChange. He asked if I could give him credit, which I promptly did. Just that small gesture of asking and not suing made his cartoon and my post that much more valuable. (The one used above is his as well and perfect for the SXSW conference I referenced.) Who knows, Rob’s cartoons, Noise To Signal, might influence someone to think harder and bring more clarity to a topic becuase he decided to let his content migrate into mine.

Maybe Murdock and Zukerberg could learn something from Cottingham.

The pitfalls of ‘oversharing’ even before the Semantic Web arrives

I never heard of the word ‘oversharing’ until I read Sue Khodarami’s article in Communication World (CW, March-April 09) where she talked about the new words that enter the dictionary faster than you can say “Wassup?’

Apparently to overshare is to reveal way too much information about your your self/life in a blog or interview. I may be accused of this as I look back at the number of profiles I have created in many online venues. Not that I am the kind of person who will tell you exactly what my children are doing on a day-to-day basis, or tweet what’s for dinner, but even those vague references embedded in comments and opinion pieces could make me succumb to the very thing I advice people not to do: I tell people not to take their Facebook of Twitter status indicator literally. No one really wants to know what you are doing right now, unless you give it some relevance! Your mother may be an exception, however.

And yet we overshare! Here are a few dilemmas of sharing with a community vs oversharing:

  • Joining an online book network where you post a review of a book and get constant updates of the books being read by people in the network. Oversharing or feeding the semantic Web?
  • Telling an audience about an out-of-town event you plan to attend, posting that idea on a blog. Oversharing and making your home a crime target, or just another harmless tidbit of info?
  • Uploading pictures of a family event to an online photo-sharing site, with detailed captions about a person’s life and location, and letting anyone post a comment beneath the photos . Oversharing or another dimension of social networking?
  • Uploading everything one does to a Facebook album –you probably know what a contentious issue this is right now. Oversharing or Ok because FB is a sort of a gated community?
  • Tweeting about the restaurant you are in, the plane you are about to board, something your boss just said at a meeting… Oversharing or staying connected with your following?

There are dozens of more examples. This is probably not a black-and-white issue. Just this week,  Tim-Berners-Lee –he the father of the Web, mind you — warned us that the so-called semantic web is upon us, and when that becomes a reality, it creates a dangerous capacity for information to be stitched together.

So while we all tend to cheer on social media because of its huge benefits, it’s time to step back occasionally and take a critical look at why we share, with whom we think we may be sharing, and finally, before spitting out another few characters of drivel, ask ourselves if it really contributes to anything.

By the way, I came across a similar question by a listener called Denise of For Immediate Release, (Show #429)who made the distinction between people who use Twitter for sharing useful information, and those who generate what she called ‘brain noise!’

IABC members speak up on the financial crisis

Happy to note, following my post last Friday, that IABC members have been blogging this very subject, making themselves heard. Maybe I missed some of these in by newsreader, but ideas have been coming in.

Fabio Betti Salgado -from Brazil

Chris Grossgart at IABC International

Natasha Nicholson –my editor at Communication World

Shel Holtz – his blog, and also in episode # 388 of For Immediate Release

Wilma Matthews –in Phoenix calls for a teleseminar on the crisis

I just heard from Barbara Gibson, the IABC chair that a webcast and teleseminar will be soon announced, among other initiatives.