Memefirst received an official (and officious) letter from Puma today, telling
us to "IMMEDIATELY cease and desist
from all further display, use and publication of the
offensive PUMA image". Why are they shouting? Why is "immediately"
in all caps? No one knows.
The letter helpfully came in the form of a PDF file, which you can download
here, if you like. Otherwise,
it’s very similar to the letter which Gawker posted
earlier today. Gawker’s also written an open
letter to Puma, wondering why they’re getting so upset about something which
is probably very good for them in their target market.
I asked Puma’s Peter Kim a similar question when I spoke
to him a couple of days ago, and he told me that Puma had received "dozens
of emails" from people upset about the ad. Personally, I’m not particularly
interested in taking a position on whether these images are good or bad for
Puma. But this is obviously something which tens of thousands of people are
interested in, and I feel that I have every right to discuss it on felixsalmon.com,
memefirst.com, or anywhere else.
The web page which Puma is asking me to take down states very clearly that
the ads are fake. It is part of a website devoted to the discussion of precisely
this sort of internet meme. Martin Schwimmer, over at trademarkblog, who is
a trademark lawyer and knows his onions, certainly doesn’t
think much of Puma’s tactics:
As to the threats that are being bandied about to those folks reproducing
the ad on their sites, let’s go over some (U.S.) ground rules. If you’re not
using the trademark in commerce, you’re not infringing and you’re not diluting.
If you re-publish a false statement with the indication that it is false (and
in fact publish it because its falsity is news), then you are not commiting
libel or trade disparagement.
Peter Mastrostefano, Puma’s lawyer, says that the memefirst posting "infringes
upon the trademark rights of PUMA"; Schwimmer says it doesn’t. I’m, obviously,
with Schwimmer on this one. What’s more, I don’t like bullies. Of course, Puma
can afford expensive lawyers, and I can’t. But I’m not going to be cowed quite
Gawker says that "somewhere in the deep recesses of Puma marketing, someone
is snickering into their computer monitor and toasting Photoshop." The
conspiracy theorists, who think this was all the work of Puma to begin with,
are certainly going to think that this whole legal action shenanigans is an
attempt to perpetuate the meme long past the point at which it would naturally
die. But it’s risky, since Puma will now be seen as a big corporate bully rather
than as a cool and streetwise brand.
Peter Kim called me a second time today, to find out who he should send the
cease-and-desist letter to. He was much less friendly this time; in fact, he
was positively curt. I don’t think he minded my previous posting about him;
in fact, he sent me an email saying it was amusing, and thanking me for "the
objective and unbiased reporting". I don’t think he was being sarcastic;
he signed off "best regards". But it’s clear that pretty much everything
is out of his hands at this point.
The pictures aren’t going to go away just by threatening legal action. There
are dozens of sites out there posting them, and if we are eventually forced
to take them down from memefirst, we’ll certainly link to any number of other
places you can view them in their full, unadulterated glory. So I really don’t
understand what Puma thinks it’s going to gain by this.
I’ve got a call in to Mastrostefano; if he gives me an answer, I’ll let you
Oh, yeah, and one other thing. I’m never buying Puma shoes again. It’s adidas all the way for me from now on.