Blogonomics: Brand Theft

If you name your blog something generic like The Flack or The Big Picture, you can hardly be surprised or hurt if and when someone else in the infinite expanses of the blogosphere goes ahead and uses the same phrase. But here’s The Flack, complaining of "blatant brand theft" by someone else using the term, and here’s Barry Ritholtz, going completely batshit when he finds out that Seeking Alpha is using the phrase "The Big Picture" on one of its tabs:

As soon as I learned of this, I fired off an email or 3 informing Seeking Alpha’s CEO that this was unacceptable to me. I insisted it be changed immediately. They refused. I find this intolerable…

If they would do this to my blog, one of the most trafficked in this vertical space, then what’s to stop them from doing something similar or or worse to any other blogger? I have a platform, a few million monthly page views — what is going to stop them from screwing anyone else? …

How should I handle this affront? How aggressively should I pursue these weasels?

Please use the comments to tell me your most clever ideas — don’t worry about being too nefarious — I will run everything by our crack legal team first. Get medievil on their asses.

Now go read this post from Seeking Alpha CEO David Jackson: the germane part is the updates at the end. It turns out that Jackson was willing to change the name of the tab, he told Barry as much, and that Barry, far from thanking Jackson, decided to instruct his army of readers to "get medievil" [sic] on Seeking Alpha.

The weirdest part of Barry’s post is that he never really comes out and explains what his beef is with the name of the tab on the Seeking Alpha website. Does he think that the tab will cause brand confusion? That it will lower his traffic? He’s too busy spluttering to say.

I really have no sympathy with Barry here. If Seeking Alpha had a tab called "Market Movers", I wouldn’t blink: I would probably imagine that it showed the biggest movers in the market that day. Yes, that’s the name of my blog, and the URL points here. But I don’t feel any particular ownership of the phrase.

Barry worries that Seeking Alpha might do "something similar or or worse" to bloggers with a fraction of his traffic — like what? Use the name of their blogs on one of their tabs? Why on earth should a small-time blogger care about that, let alone be harmed by it in any way?

I suspect that what’s really going on here is that Barry considers himself to be in competition with Seeking Alpha — he seems to have forgotten that blogging is a positive-sum game where you actually want competitors.

And while the CEO of Seeking Alpha claims that most of SA’s readers never heard of my blog, all I can do at that is laugh and say "Bullshit."

Actually, Barry, he’s right. Pretty much anybody that comes in contact with you has heard of you: that’s likely to give you a skewed impression of how well-known you are. Over at Seeking Alpha, there are lots of people who neither know nor care who you are or what your blog is called. And that’s fine. An individual blog is not, and cannot be, all things to all people. You have a large and successful niche, that’s something to be happy and proud of. But it doesn’t mean that most of SA’s readers have heard of you. There isn’t any econoblogger who most of SA’s readers have heard of — not you, not me, not Brad DeLong or Calculated Risk, not even Paul Krugman. (Well, they might have heard of him, but they don’t know him as a blogger.)

Recently an econoblogger emailed me to ask about a website which had been stealing his content without his permission. He asked them to stop, and they did — but he was still unhappy; I told him that the best thing to do was simply not be unhappy.

It’s the nature of blogs to put intellectual property out there, on the web, for free. If you do that, there will be lots of unintended consequences. Don’t sweat them. If Barry really thinks that Seeking Alpha wouldn’t have used the phrase "The Big Picture" were it not for the existence of his blog, then, well, that tab over at is just another one of thousands of unintended consequences that Barry’s blog has had.

Bloggers can control the content on their own sites; that’s hard enough. It’s just not worth it to start getting upset about content on other sites, especially when that content isn’t doing you any harm.

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