Dear Google: Parody Is Not Trademark Infringement
Say it ain't so, Google. Two weeks ago, the awesome activists at the Peng! Collective launched a funny and smart satirical site, google-nest.org, which purported to offer a host of new Google "products," pairing the launch with a public announcement at the Re:publica 2014 conference in Berlin. The spoof site included products such as Google Trust (data “insurance”), Google Bee (personal drones), Google Hug (location-based crowdsourced hug matching) and Google Bye (an online profile for the afterlife). The goal: raise awareness about Google's privacy policies, which Peng! believes are hypocritical. The spoof was great success, prompting a wave of commentary and coverage that recognized it for the satire that it was.
Unfortunately, Google's skin was not thick enough to withstand this relatively gently ribbing. The company wrote a polite note to the collective, expressing their sincere respect for political commentary—but nonetheless demanding that Peng! revise the site and assign the domain name to Google. Note to Google: polite trademark bullying is still bullying.
EFF responded to Google on Peng's behalf, explaining what should be obvious: the site was pure noncommercial political commentary. Trademark owners should not and cannot punish activists simply because they happen to use trademarks in the course of that kind of commentary.
As it happens, having made its initial point, Peng! has in fact chosen to revise the site to document Google's unfortunate response. But Peng! has refused to transfer the domain name. So the ball is back in Google's court and the company must choose whether or not to do the right thing.
There are plenty of smart trademark lawyers at Google; they should know they blew it this time. Having foolishly started this fight, Google ought to apologize and end it.