Blogs versus Copyright

If this is Monday, then it must mean that there's a new blog meme out there. This one is that Lego Blocks is stupid for trying to protect its copyright, and get people to use the correct term for the company.

I am not sure why, though. The blogosphere seems to take offence at any company that wants to protect its copyrights, as seen by the FedEx meme - people, it's over and you can stop talking about it now - and now by this slightly astroturfed meme regarding Lego blocks.

Now, after reading the note on, I had a theory why Lego had that message on that Website, before pointing to the official site: brand protection. In trademark law, if a term becomes common vernacular, the company holding the trademark loses the trademark. It's happened before, with Bayer and Aspirin. Aspirin used to be a trademark, but it became the generic term for that chemical chain pain killer. Currently, both Kleenex and Xerox are running into the same situation, and in the South, any soda is a "Coke" - which could lead to issues down the road. Even Apple has jumped into the fray, with rumors of cease-and-desist letters going out to Websites using the term iPod (notice the name change to iLounge?)

But, apparently corporations are not allowed to protect their trademarks because it's bad citizen marketing. Why? I'm not sure why protecting a trademark or products is bad citizen marketing, but by reading different blogs, I guess it is. FedEx bad. Lego Blocks bad. Apple - well, Apple good, but that's because it's the underdog attacking other underdogs. While the wording could have been a little less harsh, it's still a point that the company wants to get out there ... which is its right.

So, it's funny that at tonight's Pepcom Holiday Spectacular (PDF) I should run into the people from Lego Blocks. I got to speak to none other than Michael McNally, the Senior Brand Relations Manager for Lego (very cool business card). I asked him about the "issue" with Legos, and guess what? It's the reason I thought it was!! Lego Blocks is trying to protect its trademark, but that's verbotten in the new world of blogs.

Maybe it's time to feed the same medicine to bloggers. Let's see if they enjoy their brand - personal brands - being used in ways that they might not like. Maybe then they'll understand the corporate rationale for trying to protect a brand.

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  1. Steve Rubella's Microsuction?

    Ol' B.L.'s Whatstired Blog?

    I'm Outta Here: the Hobson Bolt's Report?

    The Hugh "My mother gave me soapy enemas so now I say 'fuck' a lot" Train Is on Schedule?

    Pepper, you rule! Let's buy up all the domains!

    (Disclaimer: Lego is a former client of mine, and I believe they have the right to protect their mark anyway they choose.)

  2. While I haven't read JaffeJuice or AdRants or any other supposed anti-copyright sites on the "Legos" subject, I think a key point is being missed.

    Yes, companies LEGO, FedEx, Jacuzzi, etc., should protect their copyrights and trademarks.

    But, it's how they do it that raises people's ire. Look at the LEGO message: "Please always refer to our products as 'LEGO bricks or toys' and not as 'LEGOS.' By doing so you will be helping to protect and preserve a brand of which we are very proud, and that stands for quality the world over."

    Who cares what the LEGO people are proud of? That line is very inward looking.

    The problem with LEGO and FedEx is the way they went about trying to protect their copyright. Very heavy-handed (lawyers' threats) and inward looking. Related your message from your audiences' perspective. Get to the why they would want to do it.

    You can protect your brand, but speak softly; don't carry a big stick.

    Look at what Jacuzzi did with the Ellen Show in summer 05. Yes, it started wrong with its lawyers, but eventually played along and got its message out. Even Ellen repeated the Jacuzzi company line a few times.

    If curious, take a look at my post on the LEGOS controversy:

    I'd be interested in your feedback.

    All the best,

  3. Continuing my world tour of comments about the Lego thing, this notice dates back to time immemorial. I remember seeing that admonishment in the 1970's. And I had the same reaction then as I did now: "Fat chance."

    I think the notice is akin to shoveling against the tide. Even Federal Express gave in and became "FedEx".

    Lego may never advertise that they make/sell "Legos", but I don't see the harm in the common use of the term. It would be worse, I think, if people called some other plastic bricks "Legos" when they weren't. Kind of like calling any tissues "Kleenex".

  4. Your idea of a brand is not like my idea of the brand. Brands are personal. Brand attributes are not the same in different social frames. I like Lego when playing with children and hate it when I find it being used by them as an ear plug. These are two different social frames.
    Protecting copyright is not about brand ownership. That belongs in the mind of the consumer/brand user. It is about defending the brand from drift into social frames that are not easy to manage by the brand manager.
    Copyright defence is often just laziness on the part of the brand manger. They often market to consumers and not people. Their best interests are served enhancing the value of the brand across a wider range of social frames. Brand management (with associated lawyers) is not about relationship management and wealth creation is is highly focused on vendor/consumer relationships. This is fine when the consumer is not the kind of human who has just stood on a block in bare feet. But with good public relations, that is exactly the social frame opportunity to add values to the brand. Brand managers need not apply but may need a lawyer.

    The defence of a brand is in the hands of public relations which is tragic for brand managers who really need a Kleenex. The alternatives are a tissue of something else.

  5. The point about "LEGO" bricks, toys, etc., vs. "Legos" is one is an adjective vs. being used as a noun.

    That's where the Kleenex issue comes in.

    Protect the wording and graphic around your trademark. That's fine. But, it's in how you go about it that will make an impact.

    Allowing the use of Legos is not right as other blocks would grow to commonly be called Legos. Just like many tissues are simply kleenexes.


  6. You cannot blame Lego and other brands for wanting to protect the name they have built. By built, I mean they have incorporated their own ideals and hard work into their specific brand. Similar items from other companies may not measure up, as far as they are concerned. For any number of reasons, Lego may not want to be associated with anything but Lego. The point is, they have this right.

    Lego's approach could have been more subtle. The alarming sign at the beginning of their site seems a little drastic. However, it is able to reach a large audience. Also, the approach may be a reflection of advisement on the particular issue.

    This is not a simple issue. I was able to understand what the "big deal" is about when I looked at the situation from Lego's point-of-view. There is a lot to be said for people who take pride in what they have accomplished.

  7. Jeremy, I am also befuddled by those that seek to blame a company that is merely trying to protect that which they have created.

    Are the terms, language of the lawyers too harsh? I don't know.

    Why do people expect that legal wording designed to protect a brand can all of a sudden have a friendly tone? Have they ever met a lawyer?

    This is so much more complex than 'bloggers' try to make it. It isn't a simple answer.

    To achieve what bloggers expect, the cultures of law, marketing, old business and more will have to change. And, it may not be able to until legal best practices change.

    Once again, bloggers - or PR practitioners drunk on koolaid - have simplified the complex and exposed their myopia.

  8. I had always heard that one of the rationalizations for Federal Express changing their name to FedEx was to protect the brand. So many people were using FedEx as a verb, the company was concerned that, like Asprin, they would lose their rights to the word.

    And another interesting thing about LEGO. While they seem to be out in force protecting their brand copyright, at the same time they're welcoming hacking and "open sourcing" of their software. This Slashdot story talks about a LEGO computer program that has been hacked by happy customers, and rather than send them "cease and desist" letters, the LEGO company is cheering them on. Kind of ironic, or bi-polar if you will.

    - Adam


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