Funny how things change when it’s your intellectual property.
Which is exactly the situation surrounding Google’s threatened (or now, actual) lawsuit against ‘Doogle-it,’ a relatively tiny South African website largely devoted to jobs. According to early details, Google is now pressing Doogle-it founder Andries Maree Van Der Merwe to change the name of his site, as well as various trademarks and logos, or face the wrath of Google’s legal army.
The cease-and-desists have been mailed, but Van Der Merwe is fighting back and has lawyered up for a very difficult fight. All of which sets the stage for a seriously lopsided David vs. Goliath battle.
All of which also highlights a rather unfortunate contrast in the way Google manages copyright and intellectual property concerns. Like most massive technology companies, Google shrewdly plays by the rules – in the case, the DMCA – but ultimately shafts media companies trying to remove their content. Over on YouTube, that game gets even more tricky and non-sensical: DMCA takedowns are time-consuming games of whack-a-mole, yet Google seems well-adept at proactively scrubbing nudity, pornography, and illegal video content with near-perfect regularity.
Meanwhile, takedown demands are surging, all of which suggests that media companies are putting more effort to control Google’s distribution of their content – fruitlessly or otherwise. And, those that are aren’t attending to their YouTube content – like the Dead Kennedys – wake up to find all of their advertising revenues cannot be claimed retroactively.
From a legal standpoint, ‘Doogle-it’ may have been asking for this one, even though its domain name was readily available. The core legal question is whether Google has a right to litigate against similar-sounding names, even if significant differences exist between those businesses. A knock-off called ‘Boritos’ that tastes exactly like Doritos is a clear trespass, but what if we’re talking about dried banana chips?
Google has declined to discuss the specfics of this case, but is offering the media a boilerplate response.
“We are passionate about protecting the reputation of our brand as an objective and fair provider of search results. We simply ask our users not to shorten, abbreviate or create acronyms out of Google trademarks.”
The sad part is that the finer arguments in the case probably won’t be vetted. Doogle, at doogle.co.za, has rather modest global traffic levels, though Alexa ranks it in the top 1,000 in South Africa. That sounds like the periphery of a competitive threat, but Davids rarely wins these types of battles. More often, poor David gets buried under a pile of motions, filings and legal bills, even if he has strong and defensible points that would have been pressed by a better-financed legal team.