March 26, 2012

Penguin is not amused


Australian humorist David Thorne, whose first book was a New York Times bestseller published by Penguin and who runs a wickedly funny website where he publishes his hilarious, prankish email correspondences with unsuspecting friends and colleagues (for starters, sample “Missing Missy,” then move on to “Timesheets“), has posted a cease and desist letter sent to him by the corporate counsel for his former publisher. It seems that on his second, self-published book, Thorne — a designer by day — has designed a logo that consists of a familiar-looking penguin flipping you the bird, as it were. And the logo appears not only on the spine and title page. It adorns the front cover, too, considerably enlarged. (See right.)

After noting that the logo for his book I’ll Go Home Then, It’s Warm and Has Chairs “closely simulates our client’s famous penguin design and will inevitably cause confusion,” the cease and desist goes on through an interesting and pages-long series of “furthermores,”  such as:

Furthermore, because Penguin is the publisher of your first book (a fact publicized in your recent book and on your website), the public is likely to believe your recent book, prominently displaying a penguin logo, is also published by Penguin.

And then there’s this one:

Furthermore, your depiction of our client’s penguin design mark making a vulgar gesture wrongfully tarnishes it and dilutes its distinctiveness in violation of the U.S. Federal Anti-Dilution Act [15 USC 1125(c) and the dilution laws of many U.S. states.

It does on like that, furthermore after furthermore, citing legal precedent after precedent, taking apart Thornes’ defense of the logo as a parody, and basically threatening him with a long legal nightmare if he doesn’t capitulate.

Thorne response is succinct and, well, undiluted: “As the book just became a ‘very limited edition’, click here to grab your copy today.”


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives