Can you guess how easy it is to land in trouble with one of Facebook’s usage laws? When you logged into your account this morning, you agreed to never name anything you could potentially trademark using the words Wall, Face, or even Book.
A latest revision to Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, updated on March 15, added the word “Book” to an already long list of common words you lost your right to use the moment you created an account on the social networking website. That applies to all the 850 million people who currently have Facebook accounts.
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“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,” the new rule reads.
“They’re really trying to rope you in with the terms of service,” Jason Schultz, an intellectual-property professor at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Law, told Bloomberg. “Part of Facebook’s strategy is to put things into the terms of service that are onerous and burdensome. Probably, all of us violate something in there.”
According to the website Ars Technica, Facebook currently owns 73 active trademarks in the U.S. Multiple words that use versions of “like,” the letter “F,” “Face,” “FB,” and “Wall,” among others, are included in that list. The word “book” has not been trademarked by the company in the U.S. yet, but it holds a pending trademark application for it in the European Union’s trademark database.
“Whether or not they have a registered trademark on ‘book,’ since you in all likelihood use Facebook and so have accepted that contract, they can arguably prevent you from using that name on the site,” intellectual property attorney Denis Ticak told Ars Technica.
Over the years, Facebook has sued various companies for trademark violations, including cases against Teachbook (pending), Lamebook (settled), and FacebookOfSex.com (won). Travel website Placebook decided not to get into a legal fight and changed its name.
It’s a big business move for Facebook, which is counting on its ubiquity to help maintain users. But it might turn off some users growing tired of the control social networks now exercise over their lives. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) landed itself in a mess with its new privacy policies — could Facebook’s trademark contract give rise to similar outcry? Only time will tell, but maybe the world is ready for a new social network without such a sense of entitlement.
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