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Amazon Tries to Strong-Arm Kindle-Related Sites

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Jason Schramm registered the domain KindleReport.com a while ago to report on Amazon’s ebook, the Kindle*.

Jason also has an Amazon affiliate (aka Amazon Associates) account, which makes him some spare change when people buy Amazon stuff through his site. Sounds like Jason is a double-win for Amazon – he provides a Kindle resource and also sells Amazon stuff. Right? Not quite, according to Amazon’s lawyers. They sent Jason the following letter signed with “Amazon.com Account Specialist”:

It has recently come to our attention that you are using a domain name in our Associates Program that contains a variation and/or misspelling of the name KINDLE, including but not limited to KINDLEREPORT.COM. Please note that we do not allow anyone with a URL containing the word “amazon,” any other trademark of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates, any misspelling of the word “amazon” and/or numerical variants to participate in the Associate Program … Such use violates Amazon.com’s trademark, proprietary and other rights.

At this juncture, we are willing to assume that you have registered and are using this domain name without a full appreciation of the above, provided that you are willing to assign this domain name over to Amazon.com. Please advise whether you agree to transfer ownership of the KINDLEREPORT.COM domain name to Amazon.com. If so, you will be contacted with further details.

If, however, we do not hear from you regarding the above within ten days from the date of this email, we will have no alternative but to terminate your associates account effective as of the date of this email and you will not receive payment for Q1 2008.

Some Kindle news sites changed their name in response to receiving similar letters, Jason says. Jason on the other hand tells me he refuses “to be strong-armed,” adding “I have run a website in good faith, promoting the Amazon Kindle brand. I had one little banner that no one even clicked on. A banner provided by Amazon.”

Corporate lawyer Paul Biba over at TeleRead.org defends Amazon’s move:

As to trademarks, which “Kindle” is, the courts have held over and over again, with no equivocation, that if a trademark owner does not enforce their registrations then the owner will lose the registration and the mark will go into the public domain. There are many examples of this happening. Perhaps the most famous is “aspirin,” which started out as a trademark but the owner didn’t enforce it and so it passed into generic use.

Paul says that while people may perceive this as the “big guy hitting on the little guy,” if the bug guy doesn’t do this hitting, “then the big guy loses his trademark just as those who owned these trademarks lost theirs: aspirin, cellophane, nylon, thermos, escalator.” Google too has used similar tactics in the past, cutting off AdSense revenues of news sites using the word “Google” in their URL.

Jason in a blog post of his argues, “I understand they need to protect their copyrights and trademarks, but there has to be another way. They risk losing a lot of goodwill from Amazon fans. They appear to be slowly working through Kindle news sites at least, so if they haven’t reached you yet they will soon.”

[Thanks Jason!]

*Disclosure: I’m not part of Federated Media Publishing anymore, but they had a deal that put blog content on Kindle, and the blog authors in the FM network got some percentage of the subscription fee (I opted out of this deal before it really materialized when opting out of FM last year).

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