File this one under “lawyer-powered overreach of the week.” Facebook had a Chinese law firm write a “cease and desist” letter to a blog called MIC Gadget, which had the audacity to sell a clever little Mark Zuckerberg figurine (pictured at left) for $69.90.
The reason, according to the cease and desist letter, is that Facebook believes the figurine may “mislead the relevant public into believing that you are an authorized dealer of Mr. Mark Zuckerberg and FACEBOOK or you have some relationship with Mr. Mark Zuckerberg and FACEBOOK in business and/or in law.”
But owning a trademark doesn’t mean you “own” the trademarked words or images-it just means others are not allowed to use them, in commerce, to confuse consumers. And most consumers know that Facebook doesn’t authorize every image of them, any more than the company authorized the unflattering Zuckerberg portrayal in The Social Network.
Making figurines with funny-looking faces is a form of satire and comic commentary. Chris Chang of MIC Gadget doesn’t seem particularly upset by the Facebook letter, so I’ll get a bit indignant for him. Since when are people not allowed to comment on a figure as public as Zuckerberg, through art or any other medium? It’s worth noting that MIC Gadget made the figurine out of admiration for Zuckerberg, whom they profess great respect for. (Ironically, if they had done an uglier and meaner portrayal, the lawyers might have thought twice before marching in.)
Nevertheless, MIC Gadget has agreed to stop selling the figurine — the second they have had to discontinue after legal threats. The first was-predictably-Steve Jobs.