We have another example of how copyright and trademark laws are being using to bully and stifle individuals or small businesses. In Beulah, Michigan, locals enjoy their Blue Caribou Cafe and its quirky dishes like Hypocrite Omelet (a vegetarian omelet with your choice of meat.) However, if Caribou Coffee Company has the final say, Blue Caribou may no more. You guessed it. Caribou Coffee appears to believe that it owns Caribou-themed restaurants.
We have been discussing a disturbing trend in copyright and trademark claims over things occurring in public or common phrases or terms. (For a prior column, click here). 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 and here and here). This included a New York artist claiming that he holds the trademark to symbol π.
In this case, Caribou Coffee Company, a Minneapolis-based German-owned company, has sued that the diner of causing irreparable harm due to its logo and name.
Caribou Coffee Company ordered the diner to cease and desist using the name and the log in a trademark infringement lawsuit filed in Grand Rapids.
By the way, the closest Caribou Coffee shop is 300 miles. (It is not clear how this action will impact customers who may be more likely to pass by the next Caribou Coffee shop in favor of a Starbucks or even better a local coffee shop).
Then there is the fact that this is a diner not a coffee shop. The Blue Caribou Café is basically known as an all-day breakfast and giant scoops of Moomers Ice Cream.
Then there are the two logos which do not seem particularly confusing or hard to distinguish:
Now the owners are broke from litigation costs and an auto accident involving one of the owners. Most businesses cave after receiving one of these threatening letters.
While this claim rightfully seems insane to average people, it is not so bizarre to this area of law. We are seeing these claims multiply because Congress has repeatedly caved into a powerful lobby in Washington expanding these protections and has done nothing to rein in their copyright and trademarks firms. We have previously discussed how President Obama has repeatedly yielded to the “copyright hawks” who have steadily increased the penalties for copyright and trademark violations, including criminal penalties. Despite the abuse of average citizens by thuggish law firms and prosecutors, the Obama Administration continues to support draconian measures against citizens. The result is that firms may routinely send out these thuggish threats and claim ownership to such things as the skyline of New York city. It is small business and average people who are being victimized because they do not have any comparable lobby in Congress.