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LEGGO OF MY LEGO DOMAIN NAME
The Lego lawyers came for a Jew who dared to register the domain LegoIsrael.com
|I interviewed a webmaster friend of mine named Ofer A.I. who in this last year has dealt with the issues of building a fan site to one of his childhood toys and then being contacted by the manufacturer of that childhood toy to take down his fan site because it infringed on their copyright. The company of course is Lego who for the last seventy years or so has provided fun click-together brick-like pieces for kids to create everything from dinosaurs to castles to working robots. Their strong-arm tactics have changed what was " nostalgic fondness" into feelings associated with ill will and being abused simply for being a fan.
This isn't the first time this has happened. Disney is notorious for protecting their copyrights and launching lawsuits against of all people daycare owners who put up murals of their characters. I wish these child-oriented companies would learn to keep their guard dog lawyers in check. There is nothing wrong with protecting copyrights but it is how you handle the situation that counts. A fan of your product is not your competition or enemy. I'll give my opinion on this after the interview section on how companies should deal with copyright issues and fans.
Here is the interview. This webmaster speaks English as a second language, Hebrew being the first, so I tried to correct any obvious translational problems he might have had in getting his thoughts across but left much of the structure in the way he wrote it so some of it still might feel awkward to an English readers. I think you'll be able to understand most of what he's saying though.
|SWENSON: What was the domain name of your original Lego site and why did you start it? Who were your visitors?
I started it cause i had some many videos and photos of Lego robots I had built, I just had to make a roof-site for this hobby of mine. I planned other Lego fans to send me their robot videos and descriptions and thus to create a Lego fan empire.
SWENSON: How long had the site been running before you were contacted that there was a problem?
OFER: I'm not sure but i think it was live for 3-4 years before they contacted me.
SWENSON: Who contacted you exactly?
OFER: First a lawyer named Stina. After this (extremely stupid) lawyer said my arguments are not relevant she had a Lego-fan network dude who runs a Lego fan site but who's working for Lego contact me. He's some sort of an insider Lego worker who "governs" the Lego fans market.
After his words didn't work, they waited for 1 year and than i was contacted by WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization). The WIPO created a "show" trial" in which they listened to each side and after 6 months gave their verdict.
SWENSON: What was their objections to your Lego Site and what was your reply to them?
OFER: They said I'm using the Lego logo. So I switched the logo the second I got their email.
They claimed people might be confused and think that my site was done by Lego so i added disclaimers plus wrote in huge letters "This site is not affiliated in any form or way with Lego group" plus I wrote in humongous letters under the logo "Not associated with Lego" plus I made an entering page which said something like "By entering my site you declare you understand that this site belongs to a Lego fan and is not associated with Lego Group".
After that they started to go off-focus cause they started to claim i should write LEGO and not Lego plus I should remove the Google ads (i removed the ads since it only brought me $1 or so in all these years).
After that they demanded I should remove my site because it uses their name "Lego" in the domain. I told them that "Lego" is a public domain name since people refer to blocks as playing with legos.
SWENSON: Did you immediately pull down your site or change anything so as to comply with their wishes?
OFER: I made all the changes they requested but they kept coming with new and more pathetic demands.
SWENSON: Who decides in cases where there is a dispute over a domain name that possibly infringes on someone's copyright?
OFER: If one side has the money than WIPO is the place to turn to. They have huge power over the domain distributor company and in fact they are the only organization which can apply pressure on the domain name company.
SWENSON: Do you believe your Lego site was infringing on Lego's copyright?
OFER: Not at all. In the end, their only claim was that i was using Google ads and thus created a site in bad faith.
I strongly believe i was running my site in good-faith since i only praised Lego and their products. I wasn't trying to cheat surfers to think this site was created by Lego plus I didn't ruin Lego's name. It was purely a fan site built by a Lego (former) fan and for Lego fans.
SWENSON: What was the resolution (or ending) to the dispute and how long did it take to resolve?
OFER: WIPO ran their fake trial for about 5-6 months and than in one month after the verdict my domain was stolen.
Here's a link to their direct resolution/verdict:
SWENSON: How do you feel towards the Lego Company now?
OFER: I hate these guys. I'm sure i won't buy their products plus I will spread the word of how corrupt they really are. As much as i love building robots, i hate financing a company who uses the money i pay them to directly attack and pursue their fans. Instead of helping fan sites they have chosen to put them out.
SWENSON: Have you started a new site and what domain are you using? Are you taking precautions against Lego contacting you again?
OFER: I have created a clone site named www.Israelego.com and I run my Lego robots site at this new domain.
There is no real defense against WIPO. This is a huge organization which has huge amounts of money. There's no chance for a single person to stand against these giants. This is a market where big money talks.
SWENSON: If Lego does contact you again what will you do?
OFER: No idea.
SWENSON: What do you think the difference is between a fan site, a company site and a site that infringes on a company's copyright?
OFER: A company site is one which has the rights to do so. The site states to the public that it's the official site of the company.
A fan site is a site which is built by a fan for other fans. The domain name is not the issue here and is not similar to the original Lego registered name.
The Lego lawyers tried to present surfers as stupid and as such they might be confused to surf my site and think it was made by Lego themselves. I'm sure this is not the case here. In my site I explained exactly what the site really was plus wrote so many disclaimers that I left no chance for any surfer to think it was run by Lego.
A site which infringes on company copyrights is one which tries to disguise it as a company site in order to gain something. A use of company images, company logo and other company copyrighted material.
Another bad use of company copyright material is a site which uses a company owned entity in bad faith. For example, a site which disguises itself to be shown as a company site but writes bad things about the company, show porn, etc, etc.
As i see it, my site wasn't made in bad faith. It was created to praise Lego and show other Lego fans what can be built from Lego products.
The new Israelego.com masthead. This is how ridiculous it has to be to avoid a lawsuit.
|As promised here's my idea on how to resolve issues like this with some business sense.
First of all, I don't think that just because your company name is within a domain that you as the company automatically get to claim it or sue to have it removed. If someone registered I-Love-Legos.com that is a domain with an opinion in it. If someone registers LegoAssholes.com and creates a site about how they loathe Lego Toys that is also an opinion and asking for that domain to be removed is akin to censorship no matter how much it affects sales.
What was contested here with Ofer is trickier because it contained a location, that being Israel. The webmaster was simply indicating that the fan site was based in Israel and in a sense that he was proud to be a fan of Legos from Israel. However, from a company perspective I can see how this may be an issue in that LegoIsrael.com does sound like a branch of the company except that Ofer posted a disclaimer that his site was not associated with the company whatsoever. Because of this I would say that whoever registered this domain first gets to keep and use it. That may sound simplistic but how are you going to resolve every fan site that uses a location or sounds like they are part of the company?
It's one thing if someone registered Lego.com--the actual company name--before the company did and then used it in any manner, that certainly is a copyright issue where the domain's ownership could be disputed. But what if someone registers LegoZimbabwe.com or LegoPortlandOregon.com. I realize I'm taking this to an extreme and that's the point. If Lego wants to protect itself and doesn't want anyone using these domain names than they can hire their staff to sit down and think of all the possible location names available and register them. They can afford it and it is certainly cheaper than bringing a lawsuit against a fansite as well as the bad publicity it creates.
I mean really, as a toy company do you want to sue a fan? How stupid can you be? There is a huge difference between a fan and someone selling your product on the black market. And so what if they make a buck off of Google. Ever hear of fan magazines selling advertising? Are Google ads going to hurt the sale of Legos? A fansite is free advertising and that advertising is in some ways more valuable because it comes from someone outside of the company. Other people visiting the site who see that this isn't just company propaganda are more likely to respond to a genuine opinion that a product is so great it deserves the time and effort it takes to create a fan site. Add to that the idea that Ofer was going to create fan videos of Lego Robots in action and you have lost a ton of promotion that could have been posted on Google Videos, YouTube.com, and funnies sites like Swensonfunnies.com. Where are the PR brains in Lego that they would allow their lawyers to pursue this?
And here's what I would have done if I were Lego and came across LegoIsrael.com. I would have contacted the webmaster and said, we're happy that you've built this fansite--could we help out in anyway? Yes, offer help. If the website is so professional that the concern is that it could be misconstrued as a company site then this guy is worth investing some time in. Give the guys some resources, free hosting or access to other fans. Update him with news, pictures of projects in progress, hype of any sort as well as any downloads you want to spread around like wallpapers or games. The possibilities for promotion here are endless. Who cares if he has the domain LegoIsrael.com as long as he's willing to put a small disclaimer that he doesn't officially represent the company. This guy was doing promotional work for free!
What Lego's real problem is is that they have some stuffy lawyers on retainer that get bored and then want to flex their muscles. Lawyers aren't concerned with maintaining goodwill with fans. And most likely lawyers never played with Legos in the first place. They were too busy tearing the wings off of flies.
Also note that Ofer had to register a domain that couldn't be associated with Lego which in English doesn't quite sound right--IsraelEgo.com (it makes it sound like Israel has an Ego), as well as place eye sore disclaimers on the masthead. Ultimately this was just ridiculous for a lego fan to have to go through. On a technicality maybe Lego could make a good judicious argument that the domain belongs to them, but that's not seeing the bigger picture and using your imagination to exploit the situation to further your company's interest. Now all that Lego Lawyers have done is manage to piss off a lego fan webmaster, get him interviewed on this site and have negative remarks about them filter into Google and other search engines which will pop up when Lego is typed in. Good going guys.
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