We have often discussed the abusive expansion of copyright and trademark laws. This includes common phrases, symbols, and images being claimed as private property. (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). (For a prior column, click here) This trend is being fueled not only by powerful lobbyists who sometimes seem like they control both Congress and the White House but law firms that have made this a virtual cottage industry. There are a large number of law firms on retainer to bring these actions and artists and companies that do little to limit them. The latest example was brought to light by the good people at Techdirt which posted a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) letter to Reddit informing them that they had violated copyright laws with a posting of an individual known as heisenberg69 with this image satirizing Office Depot.
Techdirt points out that the image is actually not a swastika but a sauwastika, the Buddhist symbol for peace. However, it quickly gets to business and points out that the letter from Office Depot’s Corporate Counsel Jared Namm incorrectly says that the posting of his image “violates the copyrights and trademarks of Office Depot.” There is no explanation of why it violates copyright. However, to the extent that this is a trademark violation, DMCA would not apply. Moreover, since this is not a “use in commerce” it is difficult to see a trademark violation in a use for satire. There is also an equally meritless terms of service claim.
Reddit is hopefully able to recognize meritless claims as a leading site — and one that is often referenced on this blog. However, one can imagine an average citizen receiving such a letter. We have previously discussed how factory law firms not only routinely threaten average citizens for cash settlements but attack those who try to educate the public. Namm does not reveal the dubious basis of the claims or explain how copyright laws could apply. He does however, swear “under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.”
Namm’s bio says that he is Corporate Counsel at Office Depot. He lists degrees from University of Miami – Frost School of Music; University of Miami School of Law; and Tulane University – A.B. Freeman School of Business. He describes himself as an “accomplished legal counsel with broad-based transactional, litigation, intellectual property, media, and administrative experience . . . Known for in-depth and comprehensive legal expertise, skillful handling of corporate, commercial, and media-related transactions, strong business acumen, superior communication and interpersonal skills, and results-driven leadership and management ability. Excels at combining strategic business thinking with legal expertise to contribute to the overall success of the business.”
What would be interesting is to learn who came up with the idea of sending the threatening letter over a minor posting on Reddit. Whoever it was has now succeeded in generating a thousand times more attention to the posting than it generated originally on Reddit. It has also created an image of Office Depot as a thuggish corporation threatening exercises of free speech. That is quite an accomplishment for a letter notifying Reddit of a meritless claim.