Monday, August 13, 2012

Forced to Stop Using "Fortune 500 University"

Dear Rich: I just read your posting about "Fortune 500" being used by an author and it gives rise to a question. Last year I started an online information service about business issues and registered a domain with GoDaddy as " Fortune 500 University". I designed an original logo and font style that looked nothing like theirs and even posted my picture in the masthead. Later, I was assaulted by an over zealous lawyer from Time-Life who intimidated me into taking my web site down for copyright or trademark violation. Should I have allowed myself to be so intimidated? Unless you're the kind of person who likes root canals, tax audits, or head lice, we think you did the right thing. If you hadn't capitulated, you would have received a series of abusive letters from lawyers, each escalating in tone, followed by a mandatory domain name arbitration or a civil lawsuit. Regardless of whether you would prevail in either of these battles (and if we were a betting blog, we'd bet on Time-Life), we doubt you'd want to deal with the hassle.
How come the previous post said ... Our previous entry on "Fortune 500" explained that informational uses, for example -- using the Fortune 500 trademark or logo in a book or magazine (or in a blog) -- do not require permission. However, commercial uses such as creating an online information service, will likely run into problems. We know the difference between informational and commercial uses is slippery, but one dividing line you can use is to ask whether the mark is being used to analyze or discuss the associated goods or services (for example to reflect on or discuss the "Fortune 500" phenomenon). In that case, it is more likely informational. Finally, the use  of "Fortune 500" as part of the domain name is going to set out a separate series of flags as it may be viewed as a form of cybersquatting.