Sometimes They Actually Are Out To Get You

When I first started this business, I thought I had a great idea, I would be a reseller of hard to find and interesting products from all sorts of factories I had sourced out. I would sell the things I liked, and get to deal with customers that were just like me. This has worked to some degree, I enjoy my work most of the time, and almost all of the customers we ever deal with are cool and fantastic ones.

The online world is a bit different that I had imagined though, I thought I could build my own little online home of cool items, deal with only cool people and kick any uncool people out of the house forever, never having to deal with them again, but unfortunately it is not quite like that, just as a percentage of the real world contains some of confrontational, narcissistic, non empathetic jerks, so is the Internet, but unlike the real word, where none of these people would be allowed in my house, my online home with its millions of visitors, tens of thousands of them will be the type of person I do not want a visit from. Some of them even bother to write my Inbox with threats, though they are not physical threats, but legal ones, they are still very disturbing to read.

Justice Scales

Justice Scales

I do not make any of the products I sell, I buy them all from large companies, they are branded, trademarked and copyrighted already, but still the shirts that I pick, especially the funny ones, often have messages the corporate world does not like. Once they decide they do not like your product lawyers are often unleashed at you to try and stop you from selling any more of the offending products, the first tool the lawyers usually use are cease and desist letters. Cease and desist letters, for those of you that don’t know, are like legal declarations of war threatening severe, business destroying legal action if you do not surrender your suppliers names, products, sales records, and even your website immediately. Please know that these letter are not from courts, as they pretend they are, and do not actually hold any legal value, but are usually the first step taken before any legal action.

The most recent legal threat against us was from a massive massive company who were very offended by an original image drawn on a shirt I was selling, though it contained no logo, trademark or even words, when I named the image for the shirt, I used a very common English word to describe it. They sent me a letter saying that this word can only be used by them, and even claim to have trademarked it. From what I know of law, having only studied it for one year, I find this highly unlikely. Even though it has a strong smell of BS surrounding it. I have taken the product down since the letter seemed to come from an actual lawyer, and although they might not be able to win a case on this particular shirt, I do have other ones that they may win cases on. So better safe than sorry I guess.

I find I am itching to fight with them, but I still have other shirts I can sell, and had best use my energy elsewhere, though it is unjust for this multi billion dollar corporation to try and control such a common English word, and to deny the world not only the word, but the sight of the funny t-shirt, not to mention my bread and butter. I will let them win the battle they started. I will not currently post the word, company, letter and shirt image here, but I may in the future.

These actions might not sound not so bad to people that believe in a fair world, where all these letter are coming for upright and moral persons, where only people who know they did something wrong, and yet did it anyway had to face such things, but I have found that sometimes lawyers are impersonating customers, sometimes our competition in to hope of having us take down a competitive product are impersonating lawyers, and sometimes lawyers admit they are lawyers, but you never know which is which, and whether they do or do not have a legitimate case against you. I can say that in the twenty or so legal threats to ourselves here over the last four years, only one of them was legitimate, I was new to the business and did not know any better, I apologized and they let me go. The other nineteen however, were just aggressive mean companies trying to seize our products, business and website with absolutely no right to it. I would shutter to think of all the business they have closed, and things they have seized from others over the years with these immoral practices. The cost of lawyers to find out what is a legitimate threat and what isn’t is also no laughing matter.

Chuck You Tee

Chuck You Big Business

You would think I should know which is a legal shirt and which isn’t but sometimes the lines are a bit blurry, for example a shirt such as Chuck You! obviously refers to the famous martial artist and movie star Chuck Norris. I would think that it was perfectly alright to sell such a shirt, so long as it does not offend Mr Norris, and trust me I would not ever want to offend Mr. Norris. I do understand that Chuck Norris has some legal rights to the shirt, if he were to contact me, since the shirt uses both his name and image, I would have no moral reason to ever refuse him, as far as I am concerned it is his shirt, the same would of course go for many of the Star Wars inspired shirts we sell, if Mr Lucas was offended by them, I would simply bow my head down, saying “I am not worthy” and slowly and respectfully place the shirts at his feet. But it is not like that, what happens is some lawyer, or maybe competitor pretending to be a lawyer, who knows, wants to get your whole damn website, and put you out of business forever for using lets say an image of Chuck holding a gun, and they say any image of Chuck ever holding a gun is owned by them forever, even if the image is an original hand drawn piece of art.

I have written and called some of the actual lawyers back that have contacted me on occasion, and was surprised to find out that they are not actually there to help, they do not understand your position, lack any sort of empathy, have no sense of humor, and are only asking you questions to build a case against you so they can accumulate more power for themselves. As if they needed any more power already being backed by billion dollar companies. I find they are very similar to a schoolyard bully flexing their muscles, expressing their dominance, and hoping very hard to have a good fight with you so they can use their foot to grind your head into the dirt. They are not trying to avoid confrontation, they are creating it. In fact the more they get to fight with you, the more hours they can bill for and the more cash they make. Like some of the most evil corporations in the world, they make money from battle, lots of money, and do not wish for peace.

I was doing a Google search on “Corporate Bullying” the other day to see what it came up with, and came across a video which I will place below, of one guy that has started to put up a bit of a fight against this type of action, he is commonly known as the “Eat More Kale” guy. I respect this guy, and I hope he doesn’t give up the fight. Since he really only sells one product, and the massive billion dollar a year chain called Chick-fil-A decided they were going to put him out of business, he really has no choice but to fight.

Have a watch and let me know what you think.

The guy has raised almost one hundred thousand USD on kickstarter.com already to do a film on this, I have nothing against Chick-fil-A, in fact I never even heard of them until now, but I hope they lose a lot of money due to this, I hope they lose so much money that all the other companies that do this kind of stuff start thinking a bit more about their actions before doing them, as currently there doesn’t seem to be any repercussions for putting the little guy out of business, and sadly it is a very very common practice. I might start posting all the threats against us here similar to the Piratebay, but I will not do that yet.

Here is his campaign if you wish to contribute: Kickstarter Campaign

Google documents any such practice they find out about on chillingeffects.org, one particular story here I found very interesting as it resonates quite a bit with my current issue:

 

Letter To Warner Bros. From Groucho Marx

1947 Letter From Groucho Marx

 

  1. Janene
    May 4th, 2012 at 06:58
    Reply | Quote | #1

    Ugh. I’m sorry you’re going through all of this. Corporations with a lot of money and big-time lawyers can make for one powerful bully. I have to admit that in your case, I always thought the manufacturer was the one that deals with royalty issues, not the seller. At the same time, even if that’s true and there is some sort of copyright issue, they can issue a cease and desist issue if the product isn’t authorized for sale. You’re in a weird business where public domain/image issues are slippery. I don’t envy you!

  2. PBScott
    May 20th, 2012 at 21:57
    Reply | Quote | #2

    @Janene
    Hi Janene,

    The product in question bared no trademarks or copyrights, nor did any of the wording on the page or anything else. The problem is that this particular company sometime in the last two years started making a similar product, whether before ours was made or after, or possibly even inspired by it, and is currently on a mission of getting rid of all the other “Like” products on the Internet. It was an original hand drawn image on a shirt that did not represent any famous person. Of all the questionable shirts we have, it was the last one I would expect to receive such a letter on, that is why I found this particular one very troubling.

    However we took it down in the hope they would go away. We never sold many of that particular shirt and carried almost no stock. We were not interested in spending money on lawyers to fight them, assuming that they somehow found a way to have some jurisdiction over us since we are not a US based company in the first place.

    There may be a point that we decide fighting against these greedy, immoral bullies might be beneficial for our own publicity, and the thousands we spend fighting them to our eventual win might be worthwhile, but that is not today. In the almost three years we sold the shirt we only ever made about $40 on it, so it would not even be worth the gasoline it would cost us to go to court and back a few times.

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