Facebook is never one to shy away from a good legal throw-down, but it has quietly settled a trademark tangle with Lamebook, a site that republishes “the funniest and lamest” Facebook posts. According to a joint statement from the companies, Lamebook can continue to exist as long as it adds a disclaimer to its site disavowing any affiliation with its Palo Alto counterpart.
The deal is something of a surprise given the increasing aggressiveness with which Facebook has been defending its intellectual property. In the last year, it has not only sparred in court with the Winklevii and others over rights to the company but has also sued educational site Teachbook and smut sites like Shagbook and Facebook of Sex.
The decision to settle came shortly after a Texas federal judge refused Facebook’s request to move the suit to its home turf in California. This suggests that Facebook may not have wished to test its luck in Texas where a jury would likely have sympathized with the two people from nearby Austin who run Lamebook. At the same time, Facebook may simply have been eager to avoid a further tide of publicity involving a site that purports to mock the lameness of its existence.
The settlement also comes at a time when new media companies are fighting a growing swarm of firms that are laying claim to part or all of their names and products. Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), for instance, is engaged in trademark litigation over nearly anything “i” (iphone, itouch, icloud, etc) while Facebook has filed requests to trademark the words “face” and “book.”
To some, the big companies are bullies that use the law to snuff out potentially threatening startups, while also hijacking a good portion of the English language. Others, though, see Lamebook and its ilk as parasites that feed the media a David-vs-Goliath storyline while waiting for the bigger companies to pay them to go away. A casual search of the federal trademark database suggests this might be at least partly true when it comes to “i” products — the search reveals applications for improbable names such as ‘ipilot’, ‘iexit’ and even ‘ilawyer’.
The Lamebook case, though, differs from many others in that the site invoked a parody defense rather than claiming an independent right to the name. For the defense to work, a company would have had to show that it is using a famous name in a satiric or irreverent way that doesn’t risk consumer confusion. The most prominent recent example of that occurred when the Fourth Circuit agreed that “Chewy Vuitton” could sell dog accessories despite the objections of a certain fashion label.
In Lamebook’s case, the defense would appear to have been less clear cut. Although the name of the site is clearly a joke, the substance of it consists of little more than an aggregation of inane Facebook posts pasted under a blue and white logo — hardly the height of smart satire.