March 27, 2012
Facebook asserts trademark in the word ‘book’
by Ellie Robins
Bad news, fellow publishers. We’ve been so busy fretting about Amazon’s tyranny, bookshop closures, and the rise of the ebook, that we’ve missed the fatal threat posed to us by Facebook. Wired reports that Zuckerberg et al have asserted trademark in the word ‘book’ in their new user agreement. Which could make the business of selling said items tricky. The agreement stipulates:
You will not use our copyrights or trademarks (including Facebook, the Facebook and F Logos, FB, Face, Poke, Book and Wall), or any confusingly similar marks, except as expressly permitted by our Brand Usage Guidelines or with our prior written permission.
Sound absurd? Facebook means business, and has already instigated several legal battles on this issue, with varying degrees of success. The Wired report observes:
Facebook has had mixed results when asserting trademark rights over “book” in court. Facebook’s lawsuit against “Teachbook” is still pending. Facebook settled a suit it filed against Lamebook, allowing the parody site to continue operating. Facebook gained control of a porn site domain called “FacebookOfSex.com.” A travel site called Placebook changed its name in 2010, choosing not to fight—no surprise given the large expense of litigation.
Of course, names like Lamebook, Placebook, etc. are to varying degrees inspired by Facebook, and there’s no case (as yet) of the company pursuing a publisher for using the word. That’s not to say that worse isn’t to come, though, particularly as, no matter how ridiculous the claim, many of their opponents are likely to settle out of court rather than taking on a company the size of Facebook. It’s terrifying to think of businesses claiming ownership of words in this way, and more so when you consider the sneaky way in which Facebook is going about this. It hasn’t yet registered ‘Book’ in the trademark database, though it has registered ‘Face’, ‘Wall’ and ‘Like’, as well as more specific terms like ‘FB’ and ‘Facebook Pages’. But by asserting ownership of ‘Book’ in their own user agreement, they make acknowledgment of that ownership binding for all users of Facebook. And that leaves how many people free to use the word as they like?
Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.