January 25, 2008

Followup: Ford Makes Amends

As I wrote about previously there was a lot of discussion around the internet about Ford refusing to let the Black Mustang Club print its calendars of their members' cars. It seems that after a bit of back and forth Ford is allowing the project to go forward. Cory Doctorow summarizes everything better than I could in the BoingBoing article, so check it out.

If you're too lazy to do that, here's a quick summary of the summary:


  • Ford says they never told CafePress that they couldn't print the Black Mustang Club calendars, although they had previously sent them "very stern letters" about similar projects before.

  • CafePress told the Black Mustang Club that Ford said they couldn't do the calendar specifically, or Black Mustang Club misinterpreted the message as such. Either way, CafePress was under the impression that such projects were forbidden.

  • Ford has contacted both parties and stated that the calendar (and other future projects) are ok if they don't imply an endorsement by Ford.

  • Ford needs to tell their legal department to take a chill pill.

  • CafePress needs to back their customers and not be pansies when the law is on their side.



I think it's a pretty gray area in terms of the law being on the side of the customer in this case. It's obvious where Cory stands, but he's a devout Fair Use advocate, possibly to the point of unintentionally misinterpreting the law. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for Fair Use; I'm just not sure that printing and selling the calendars without Ford's express permission is conclusively within the intent (if not the letter) of the law as it stands. I'm not even sure if there is much case law to support either side in this particular incident, and I've read very convincing opinions from people on both sides who are more knowlegable in the area of trademark than I am.

However, it's a valid point that companies like CafePress need to at least appear to try to back their customers in cases like this and not just bend over to any cease and desist letter from some newbie lawyer trying to get on the boss' good side. Whether CafePress retained their own legal council on this is not clear in the correspondence that's been made public, but I would advise them to do so in cases like this. It would benefit them to get a second opinion on this kind of thing and let their users know that they are at least following the council of their own lawyers and not those of another company, who is only looking out for itself. It would go a long way toward building customer confidence.

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