Thursday, May 31, 2007
I learned this lesson years ago
It was October of 1998. I was sitting in my cubicle when Chuck, my partner, walked by and dropped some papers in front of me.
“Could you please take care of this,” he said. “Mmmm-kay? Thanks. Bye.” He then wandered off to terrorize the sales department.
I read the papers in front of me, and was rather alarmed to find out I had been served a cease and desist letter from some law firm representing the company that owns the trademark to “Welcome Wagon®” who took exception to this particular page on my site.
Now, at the time, I was working for Armigeron
Information Services, Inc and my personal website at the time was
appearing under the URL
http://www.armigeron.com/people/spc/. I think that the fine
people who owned the trademark Welcome Wagon® took offense that my use
of Welcome Wagon® fell under a commercial site and using due diligence
to protect the Welcome Wagon® trademark, sent Chuck, as owner of
Armigeron Information Services, Inc., a cease and desist letter. Now,
because the particular page fell under my personal website there on
the company site, the letter got passed to me to take care of.
I had no idea that “Welcome Wagon®” was a trademark!
I didn't even create those pages!
I was hosting those pages as a favor to a group of
people hanging out in the USENET group
which I was an active member at the time.
It was at that time that I registered my own domain,
conman.org (since the obvious choices,
spc.net, were already taken), and
moved my site from
http://www.conman.org/people/spc/ and configured the company
website to send permanent redirects from the old location to the new
location (and thus, that's why my personal pages appear under
/people/spc/ under my own domain).
That was apparently appeasement enough for the owners of Welcome Wagon® since I've never heard back from them in the nearly nine years since.
I learned two important lessons that day:
- companies, no matter how benevolent, will not help litigate that which they do not fully control (in this case, my personal pages under the Armigeron Information Services, Inc. website) and
- it's always to your advantage to have your own domain if you want to have any significant Internet presence.
So it's with bemused detachment that I watch the public fervor over LiveJournal suspending accounts willy-nilly. As I posted on a friend's locked journal entry at LiveJournal:
I'm aware of the situation, and I'm of two minds on it. If the accounts deleted were free, then well, you get what you pay for. It would be nice if LiveJournal notified free users of the account being blocked, or whatever, but not legally necessary. If they were paid accounts, then yeah, LiveJournal has some 'splaining to do, and may have acted heavy handed.
But bookshop's 7 Day Response plan is just way over the top. Dude, download the LiveJournal code base, and set up your own fanfic LiveJournalesque site. You perceive a demand for it, and LiveJournal has shown they're not interested. Pick up the market! Make money! It's the American Dream!
This is one reason why I maintain my own server. I'm not beholden to some large faceless corporation to maintain my data for me (then again, I am beholden to a corporation that houses my server, but that corporation is The Company, so I have a bit more autonomy than if I had a sever at, say, DreamHost—and believe me, I am very grateful for that).
To those who can't maintain their own server (or can't afford their own server), I can only say, “read the fine print closely” (“The Bold Print Giveth, and the Fine Print Taketh Away”) and make sure you understand exactly what you are getting into and you can't do, and the company whose services you are using, can do (years ago, I got an idea that involved the use of Moveable Type, but when I read the fine print I realized that I couldn't do what I planned as Six Apart would sue me out of existence).
And another tip: the Internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it. And there's probably money to be made in that …
Update on Thursday, June 7th, 2007
Since writing this, Six Apart has announced a licensing change for Moveable Type---it's now open source under the GNU GPL.
Figures it would change after I mention it.