August 14, 2002 11:52 AM PDT
Godzilla vs. the blog thing
The owner of the Godzilla trademark has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the small-time blogging site Davezilla, sparking concerns that AOL Time Warner-sponsored Mozilla.org could be the Japanese monster's next target.
The letter, sent by U.S. law firm Seyfarth Shaw on behalf of Japanese retail and entertainment company Toho, claims that Dave Linabury's Web site Davezilla infringes on Toho's Godzilla trademark both in name and in its lizardlike mascot.
Seyfarth Shaw declined to comment.
Linabury, an information architect for General Motors in Warren, Mich., said he wouldn't knuckle under to Godzilla.
"Every time they've tried this tack Toho has lost," Linabury said. "All I'm going to do is write them a short e-mail saying, 'Thank you for your e-mail. I will take it under advisement.' I've updated the copyright notice at the bottom clarifying that I have no relationship with Toho. But I'm not taking my dragon off."
Godzilla's swipe at Davezilla has aroused concern among commentators on sites, including Slashdot.org, that the Web's more famous 'zilla, the AOL Time Warner-sponsored Mozilla open-source development project, may be next on the monster's list.
Nearly 1,000 other domains with a "zilla" suffix have been registered, but Mozilla was among the first with its cross between the browser "Mosaic" and the monster-associated "zilla."
Mozilla declined to comment.
But sources close to Mozilla say that Toho and AOL Time Warner--which owns the intellectual property associated with the Mozilla mascot and brand--have hammered out an agreement that will let the open-source group continue to use the "zilla" name without legal repercussions from Toho.
"It's been back and forth for a couple of years now," said a source familiar with the negotiations.
One legal analyst said Toho was picking on a tiny opponent such as Davezilla because prior battles with companies closer to its own size had ended in defeat. He cited a case in which Toho took Sears to court for its "Bagzilla" garbage cans, to no avail.
"I think it's an example of a trademark owner looking for a small, relatively innocuous player to make an example of," said Eric Goldman, assistant professor at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Wis., and former chief counsel for Epinions. "They tried and didn't succeed with Sears, so if you fail against the people with money, then you go and look for small fry and see if you can try to get them to change their behavior."
Goldman declined to speculate on Toho's chances for success but said that the company's attorneys were taking "a very aggressive definition of trademark confusion."
"In order for there to be trademark confusion, you have to be confused about the source or origin of goods and services in the marketplace," Goldman said. "And I can't imagine a set of reasonable consumers who would be confused between Davezilla and Godzilla. They are different products with a different look and feel, and they're in completely different industries."
Goldman also noted that because Davezilla isn't actually selling anything on his site, Toho's attorneys would be hard-pressed to demonstrate that Davezilla was creating confusion in a marketplace.
In an attempt to level the playing field somewhat between large corporations that pursue individuals with limited legal and financial resources, a group of law schools together with the Electronic Frontier Foundation created a site called the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, where people can go for help in responding to corporate lawyers who challenge their online activities.
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