Blog Post

Facebook Calls In The Lawyers To ‘Ban’ A Zuckerberg Figurine

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.

3 Responses to “Facebook Calls In The Lawyers To ‘Ban’ A Zuckerberg Figurine”

  1. Mullin, now you’ve done it. You’ve got the lawyers, who want to control everything, after you. Watch out, barrister (I presume) Burdick will be after you next for making disparaging comments against a lawyers. And, Mullin, don’t be such a stupid fool next time. Someone may mistake you for a lawyer.

  2. Joe Mullin

    Well, Bruce, all I can say is that I respectfully disagree. Making a little sculpture of someone is, in fact, a form of speech about that person, and Facebook is not *supposed* to have the right to hire trademark lawyers to engage in speech-control. (Also, if you actually click through to the link, you’ll note that the lawyers didn’t just ask to remove the little “f” — they simply said that MIC Gadgets couldn’t portray Zuckerberg’s ‘portraiture’ without permission.)

    I understand that many trademark owners and their lawyers *want* to control speech about their trademarks, and indeed are often successful in doing so, as they were here. That doesn’t make it a legitimate use of trademark law, or make it right, IMO.

    Your suggestion that consumers will assume Facebook is the originator of these goods is without evidence. But suppose some did. I have no doubt that some consumers might also believe that Facebook was “somehow…associated with” the creation of The Social Network. But so what? The confusion of a few can’t be allowed to trump others’ speech rights. Isn’t The Social Network also “riding” on Facebook’s “coattails”?

  3. The author of this article does not understand trademark law or celebrity rights. There is absolutely no question Facebook had a legitimate case and would have won. The use of an easily recognizable Mark Zuckerberg doll with Facebook indicia (“I invented poking”) is clearly intended to profit by riding on the coattails of Facebook’s enormous reputation and goodwill. Facebook has the right to control the quality of merchandise that is likely to be assumed as somehow connected to or associated with or sponsored by or licensed by Facebook as otherwise, their reputation is no longer in their control and shlock merchandisers can clearly tarnish their image. Before making a story like this in the future check with someone who knows the law so you don’t look like such a stupid fool.