For independent bloggers such as myself, protecting our trademarks is becoming a huge issue as blogging moves into the mainstream, and this week’s controversy over the naming of what would otherwise be an interesting site has lit a touchpaper on the subject.

Earlier this week I received an unsolicited email inviting me to visit a blogsite called www.thecoveted.com

I clicked through and looked at it, confused. Goodness, I thought, why on earth would long-term blog writer Jennine Jacob re-launch her long-standing & well-regarded blog The Coveted just before NYFW, when she must surely be in the middle of organising her other project, the enormous Evolving Influence conference? And why change her rather good logo?

At no point did it occur to me or, it transpires, many others, that this site was not a project from the founder of www.the-coveted.com Jennine Jacob.

But it wasn’t. www.thecoveted.com is a new site launched by Erin Kleinberg, Stephanie Mark, and Jake Rosenberg. (I am not linking to it. They have had quite enough traffic off the back of the REAL Coveted site as it is).*

I have been in Paris for couture all week and, with Orange’s absymal Blackberry roaming, I’ve only been able to check into Twitter intermittently. But as I did, I started to notice more and more Tweets from others in the online space signalling confusion about The Coveted’s new venture and then, as the week progressed, outrage, anger and shock that a new fashion blog would see fit to encroach on both another blogger’s reputation and their online space.

Because, protest as the new Coveted may that they knew nothing of Ms Jacob’s site, they surely cannot expect us to believe that they do not use Google, did not check for other sites with the same name before launching their own. (Do read the letter Ms Jacob’s lawyers sent to Klein & co, and their preposterous response here.)

This would demand a level of naivity somewhat belied by their concerted media launch campaign and the fact they have constructed a mailing list to send unsolicited emails to what appears to be the entire style blogging community. (And which, can you believe it, included Ms Jacob? If they can send her an email asking her to check out the new site then they surely must have known of her domain name.)

[And let’s not forget that Ms Jacob owns the Twitter handle @thecoveted, which forced the new Coveted to use something different. QUITE a large clue as to the existence of the first Coveted site wouldn’t you say?]

Lest you think, as the new Coveted claims in its legal response to Ms Jacob’s cease & desist request, that confusion would be impossible, limited to only a few people who knew of The-Coveted.com and its founder Jennine Jacob, let me disabuse you: Jacob’s The Coveted was launched in 2007, and it is one of the best loved style blogs.

Jacob also founded and runs the premier online resource for fashion bloggers: Independent Fashion Bloggers, as well as launching Evolving Influence, five seasons ago, which has become the world’s largest fashion-week endorsed fashion blogging conference. I think it is clear that anyone even remotely engaged with the online world of fashion blogging and sites, would know of her and of www.the-coveted.com. [Disclosure: I have written, unpaid, for IFB & am a speaker (on ethics in blogging) at Evolving Influence 2011.}

And that’s quite apart from, as I detail below, the confusion caused by having two identically named sites showing up in Google searches. (To add insult to injury, I suspect that the main reason that the new Coveted even shows up on the first page of Google is because of Ms Jacob’s hard SEO work in placing that term high up in Google. There is no way a brand new site could appear that high that quickly on Google otherwise)

(I’m also not loving little stunts that the new www.thecoveted.com is pulling: like sending a Thanks FF  Tweet to Stylebubble, when Susie has made it very clear through her own tweet that she supports Ms Jacob’s site and not the new one.)

And, although for me and many, many others, the unalloyed joy of the blogosphere is its community spirit, and having each other’s backs, I am going to have to do something that sits hard with me. I am going to have to make it plain here that I am not acting in concert with anyone else.

This is because, although there is this little thing called the First Amendment, of which the new www.thecoveted.com’s lawyers seem to be unaware, they have threatened Ms Tam with legal action if she publicises her fury with them or encourages other to do so.

So, just to make it crystal clear:
Jennine Jacob has not contacted me in any way on or off-line to ask for support in this matter. I have tweeted, posted on Facebook and am writing this post to express my opinions and my opinions only after examining the facts of the case.

*If you are wondering why Ms Jacob did not use www.thecoveted.com herself, rather than the-coveted.com, it is because it had been bought years ago by someone else, but was not used on either a live site or one in construction.

Addenda:

1) I see that the new The Coveted have suspended all comments on their Facebook page. Now, why oh why could that possibly be?

2)I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that in the UK, Ms Jacob would be protected by the common law tort of Passing Off, as it is clear that the new Coveted site benefits from the reputation of Ms Jacob’s site, as it means that the search term “the coveted” is placed high in Google through Ms Tam’s years of hard work, and because Ms Jacob will lose substantial traffic from confused readers, who head to the new site in the mistaken belief that is it hers.

Here is an extract from Wikipedia:

“Passing off is a common law tort which can be used to enforce unregistered trademark rights. The tort of passing off protects the goodwill of a trader from a misrepresentation that causes damage to goodwill.”

3) Signature 9’s good piece on eminent domain here

DON’T FORGET TO SIGN THE PETITION! Click through on the widget at the top of the post.

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39 comments

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I’ve signed. Thanks for doing this, LLG. I’ve been mainly off-line/slightly connected due to power outages in DC-area. Therefore I didn’t know a thing about this…xo

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I can’t believe there are people out there who are so devious and unethical as to steal another individual’s trademark to promote their own blog. Oh, not forgetting the fact that they slap a ridiculous AND illogical reply to the letter. I’m new to the blogshere and have never heard of the-coveted.com but I’m going to add her blog to my favorites from now.

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This is awful. I keep landing on the fake/new The Coveted site without wanting to. They really don’t have a leg to stand on. Backing Jennine Tam all the way on this.

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Thanks so much for writing about this LLG. For a community which is generally so supportive and decent, this whole situation is horribly nasty. And to pick Jennine of all people. It really does make you want to weep.

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I have signed and you have put this very eloquently

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I’ve signed yesterday and linked to the story on my Facebook page also. I’m a lawyer so I find it particularly offensive when people have this sort of behaviour AND get lawyers to back up their preposterous claims with vague threats of legal action.

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Just to add to your last point, common law in the United States protects unregistered trademarks. In speaking with multiple attorneys for our original post, I actually learned that this was inherited from English law. I’d be surprised if Canada (where C2 founders reside) didn’t have similar laws in place.

In researching the piece, I also found that Google estimates 2400 people per month search for the exact phrase “the Coveted”

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Thanks so much for spreading the word about our petition! I’m hoping it will hold enough merit to be used to prove to Kleinberg’s lawyer exactly how many of us were confused by her site’s appearance. I think what they (The Coveted 2.0) are trying to do is appalling, and if allowed to continue sets a very bad precedent that can be harmful to bloggers everywhere. Fashion or not.

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Have signed the petition. Thanks also for clearing up the fact that Stylebubble didnt FF them! I thought she had!!!

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I find this story really upsetting. I had a situation a bit like this last year when someone started another blog called Coco’s Tea Party (using the URL sdcocosteaparty.blogspot) and was stealing my posts and images. Luckily they stopped once I discovered it and asked them to shut it down, and no one was really reading it anyway.

But that was annoying and upsetting so I cannot even begin to imagine how Jennine feels as this is on such a huge level. I really hope some solution can be found as it’s horribly unfair for her. It’s also interesting as people seem to have a totally different attitude about stealing from blogs as they would from newspapers, magazines etc.

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