Google Bullies Blogger to Surrender “GoogleAppsEngine.com”

Google-is-evil.jpgA friend of mine, Ali Akbar (@aliakbar), has made me aware of an interesting development going on with the domain he bought, googleappsengine.com (note the “s”). When he bought it, he approached me asking if I would be a blogger for the site, with intent to blog about Google App Engine news and announcements on the domain. He seemed quite excited about it, and, as a fan of Google App Engine, saw this as the perfect domain to write under since Google didn’t seem to be using it.

On Friday, without even time to set up the blog he was intending to create, Ali received the following very generic letter from Google (which he shared with me), asking him, in a very bullied fashion, without any offer to even make it right, to surrender the domain or face legal consequences:

Dear Sir/Madam:

Google is the owner of the well-known trademark and trade name GOOGLE, as well as the domain name GOOGLE.COM. As you are no doubt aware, GOOGLE is the trademark used to identify our award-winning search engine, located at www.google.com. Since its inception in 1997, the GOOGLE search engine has become one of the most highly recognized and widely used Internet search engines in the world. Google owns numerous trademark registrations and applications for its GOOGLE mark in countries around the world.

Google has used and actively promoted its GOOGLE mark for a number of years, and has invested considerable time and money establishing exclusive proprietary rights in the GOOGLE mark for a wide range of goods and services. As a result of its efforts, the GOOGLE mark has become a famous mark and a property right of incalculable value.

You have registered, without Google’s permission or authorization, the domain name googleappsengine.com (the ‘Domain Name’). The Domain Name is either confusingly similar to or incorporates the famous GOOGLE mark in its entirety, and, by its very composition, suggests Google’s sponsorship or endorsement of your website and correspondingly, your activities.

Your use of the Domain Name constitutes trademark infringement and dilution of Google’s trademark rights and unfair competition. Your use of the Domain Name is diluting use because it weakens the ability of the GOOGLE mark and domain name to identify a single source, namely Google. Further, your registration and use of the Domain Name misleads consumers into believing that some association exists between Google and you, which tarnishes the goodwill and reputation of Google’s services and trademarks. Moreover, your registration and use of the Domain Name is also actionable under the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (‘UDRP’). Under similar circumstances, Google has prevailed in numerous UDRP actions. These decisions are located online at www.icann.org/udrp/udrpdec.htm.

In view of your infringement of our rights, we must demand that you provide written assurances within 7 days that you will:

1. Immediately discontinue any and all use of the Domain Name;
2. Take immediate steps to transfer the Domain Name to Google;
3. Identify and agree to transfer to Google any other domain names registered by you that contain GOOGLE or are confusingly similar to the GOOGLE mark;
4. Immediately and permanently refrain from any use of the term GOOGLE or any variation thereof that is likely to cause confusion or dilution.

Sincerely,
The Google Trademark Team

What???!! “You have registered, without Google’s permission or authorization, the domain name googleappsengine.com (the ‘Domain Name’).” So wait – now I have to get Google’s permission before I get any name that even resembles the Google trademark?

I am astounded at the bullyish nature of this letter, and to assume that anyone that buys any name even resembling the Google trademark to be a violation against their trademark name. Google clearly hasn’t been very good at defending this in the past – just searching with their own search engine, I’m finding tons of examples of sites using the Google name in their own domain name (yes, I “Google’d” it):

googlefight.com
googlesystem.blogspot.com
googleguide.com
googlealert.com
googlerankings.com

The list just gets started from there…

Now, let me preface this with the fact that I am not a Lawyer, but I did learn this in Law class in college. The “Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy” which Google references can be found here, and in the document, it states:

c. How to Demonstrate Your Rights to and Legitimate Interests in the Domain Name in Responding to a Complaint. When you receive a complaint, you should refer to Paragraph 5 of the Rules of Procedure in determining how your response should be prepared. Any of the following circumstances, in particular but without limitation, if found by the Panel to be proved based on its evaluation of all evidence presented, shall demonstrate your rights or legitimate interests to the domain name for purposes of Paragraph 4(a)(ii):

  (i) before any notice to you of the dispute, your use of, or demonstrable preparations to use, the domain name or a name corresponding to the domain name in connection with a bona fide offering of goods or services; or

  (ii) you (as an individual, business, or other organization) have been commonly known by the domain name, even if you have acquired no trademark or service mark rights; or

  (iii) you are making a legitimate noncommercial or fair use of the domain name, without intent for commercial gain to misleadingly divert consumers or to tarnish the trademark or service mark at issue.

Based on Ali’s approaches to me, there was no intention for commercial gain, nor to tarnish the trademark or service mark at issue. I also have e-mail to prove his demonstrable preparations to use the domain in connection with a bona fide offering. Let me also add that my intention to blog for him was simply in my own support of the Google App Engine. I personally had nothing huge to gain from it other than possibly a little exposure from what could possibly be a good blog.

Let me also add that Trademark issue is a very different issue than the Copyright issue I mentioned before with the Mormon Church and Wikileaks. That issue was about Wikileaks knowingly stealing the content owned by the Mormon Church and using it for unintended purposes. This issue is simply about using the Google domain to further promote Google and its properties. Ali had intent to do such, and with my limited knowledge he should have every right to do so.

What if Facebook were to go after my other blog, FacebookAdvice, or even the book I co-wrote, “I’m on Facebook — Now What???“? What about my friend Nick O’Neill’s AllFacebook, or my other friend, Justin Smith’s InsideFacebook. What about my other blog, OpensocialNow? Does this mean I’m the next target to be bullied by Google?

Of course, GoogleAppsEngine.com isn’t my domain, and I don’t know what would make Ali feel better, but my suggestion to Google is to apologize to Ali for such a rude and inappropriate letter to what may be one of their biggest fans, and make right with him. How about, instead of threatening to take it away from him, offering him at least some swag and a little money for the domain? Come on Google – let’s not be evil here. I know you’re better than that.

As for Ali, last I heard he is not backing down. It’s a David vs. Goliath battle, but let’s hope Google can be a little better than Goliath in this case and just back down a little.

What do you think? Am I wrong on this issue? Is this just the same as the copyright issue I mentioned earlier? I’m very interested to hear your thoughts – this seems very unfair to me.

Photo courtesy http://mathmath-ecomm.blogspot.com/2007/11/google-is-useful-but-worried.html

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jessestay

Jesse Stay has been a pioneer in the space of social media marketing since before it was called "social media marketing". Originally a software developer, Jesse built a tool called SocialToo.com which helped brands like Pepsi, Brittany Spears, and MC Hammer grow their social media presence, and before he knew it brands were coming to him for help to grow their presence in very unique ways. His tool was featured on almost every tech blog and even mainstream news sites like New York Times, Techcrunch, and Mashable. Jesse also spent a brief period working FOR Facebook, Inc., helping them to build out their documentation to help companies integrate Facebook Connect into their websites and mobile apps. Jesse took his skills and helped the LDS Church kick off most of its social media programs. While there he helped launch the award-winning "I'm a Mormon" marketing campaign with global reach worldwide in the millions of views and followers. Jesse established new global programs at the Church to further grow its reach amongst both members and non-members of the Church, working with every department of the Church, also including entities like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Brigham Young University. He also helped the Church navigate its voice and presence during the Mitt Romney Presidential campaign due to the significant attention the Church was getting at the time. He established the social media advertising techniques and strategies employed at Deseret Digital Media growing over 20 million fans across their news properties in just 6 months, and was featured on AdWeek for his success. As founder and Principal of Stay N Alive, Jesse has developed very unique techniques in social media advertising to help organizations grow presences, within months on minimal budgets, into hundreds of thousands of highly relevant and engaging fans and followers. He designed and teaches social media advertising at LDS Business College. He has helped grow sales, and has a belief that yes, you CAN measure social! Jesse has been featured as one of 10 entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter (next to Biz Stone and Ev Williams, founders of Twitter) by Entrepreneur magazine. Jesse has written 9 books on the topic of social media marketing and development, including Google+ Marketing For Dummies and Facebook All In One For Dummies, and eats, lives, and drinks social media with a personal combined presence of over 600,000 followers on his personal social profiles.

0 thoughts on “Google Bullies Blogger to Surrender “GoogleAppsEngine.com””

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  30. While it might be unfair and it is up to legal eagles to wrestle it out; the best practice is to just steer clear of names like facebook, google, twitter, etc. it is only a matter of time before their bigger leagal teams swoop in for the kill.

  31. While it might be unfair and it is up to legal eagles to wrestle it out; the best practice is to just steer clear of names like facebook, google, twitter, etc. it is only a matter of time before their bigger leagal teams swoop in for the kill.

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  33. IMHO, your friend is in clear violation of a trademark. Something like AppEngineHelp would be less offensive since it's not likely to be confused with the real deal, and I can see why they might let something like that go. If I were Google, I would have done the same thing –after asking nicely, of course. 🙂

  34. In order to protect their trademark, Google has to send a take-down letter to anyone who puts up a domain that can possibly be construed as coming from Google. The other names you've cited, if they are indeed non-Google properties, have certainly received the letter and will probably get further legal action. Google's take-down letter is fairly mild when compared to some others that I've seen. It needs to be worded strongly enough that it gets appropriate attention.

    Trademarks are very different from copyrights. In trademark issues, it is the responsibility of the trademark owner to defend the trademark. Failure to be diligent in defending the trademark can result in the mark being declared “generic”, such as has happened with “linoleum”, among many others. The word “Google” is becoming so ingrained in our vocabulary that it's now a verb as well as a noun as well as the name of a company, which must be very worrysome for Google's trademark lawyers.

    On the other hand, copyright enforcement is in the purview of the legislature (as set out in the Constitution). Congress sets the rules and manages the rules of engagement / enforcement whereas court litigation is the vehicle through which trademark law is both defined and enforced.

    Finally, whenever lawyers get involved, the words “fair” and “unfair” have no relevance…!!

    Thanks!
    Roland

    p.s. The domain name in the blog title is missing an 's'….

  35. Excellent points Roland – I'm familiar with that as well, and you do have a
    point on the “fair” vs. “unfair” part with the Lawyers. I do think that
    Google should be at least a little more careful with when they unleash those
    lawyers though, especially when their unofficial slogan is, “do no evil”.

  36. An afterthought: why not require these supposed tradmark infringers to have a disclaimer on their website in big bold letters stating that they are not affiliated with Google or Dell, etc…

    Then everyone's happy.

  37. A friend ran into the same situation with Dell Computers. They sent him the same threatening letter almost verbatim when he purchased a domain, containing his last name, Dell, to sell computer parts (I can't remember the exact domain name). Apparently, anyone with the last name of Dell is prohibited from branding anything computer-related with their own name according to Dell Computers. My friend didn't have the legal funds to fight them over it and so created a new website, company name and logo, at his expense.

    I can see both sides of the story. On one hand, if I started a company, I'd want the company name to be protected, but on the other hand, I wouldn't feel threatened because someone wanted to imitate me. It's the sincerest form of flattery, isn't it?

    They should use the standard, accept no imitations, look for the Google seal or something to that effect. Use it as a positive marketing tool, instead of angering someone, who then tells their friends, who then tell their friends, and before you know it, Google IS evil in the eyes of more consumers than before they sent the legal threat. At the very least, they should reimburse people for the cost of purchasing the domain name. I think they can afford it more than us little guys. It seems like instead of the old way of buying up all domain names that they don't want anyone to own, they wait for us to buy them, then expect us to hand them over free of charge.

  38. It's perfectly clear that your friend intentionally chose the name because of it's close proximity to “Google”. The fact that he tried to fog the issue by adding and additional letter “s” is evidence in itself. If you read the relevant part in Google's letter, it is clear that they too see it as an 'infringement' if not misleading to the public. “…your registration and use of the Domain Name misleads consumers into believing that some association exists between Google and you,” Clearly that was the intent and is therefore Illegal. Unfortunately for your friend, Google is in the right on this one.

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