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Products use trademarked Google logos without permission

Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) "Scroogled" campaign -- a series of sarcastic ads masterminded by Mark Penn, best-known as a campaign strategist for Bill and Hillary Clinton's respective Presidential runs -- was greeted with mixed reactions.  Some of the ads, which attacked Microsoft's search arch-rival Google Inc. (GOOG) -- bordered on being mildly humorous.  Others fell flat.

In the end Microsoft seemed to be letting the campaign quietly die down -- or so it seemed.

But while the broadcast ads tapered off, Microsoft has taken the campaign to the web.  Its latest attack -- which is featured on mugs, t-shirts, and other memorabilia available from the Microsoft store carrying various anti-Google slogans, including the familiar "Scroogled" parody of Google's colorful log.

Perhaps most eye-catching, though, is a fresh attack proclaiming:

Keep calm while we steal your data.

Zing! The quote on that hot cup of sass alludes to the internet company's snooping on citizens' open Wi-Fi networks via its StreetView cars.  Google claimed the data collection was "accidental" despite internal emails clearly stating that it was an attempt to collect informations on users to improve marketing.

So far Google has already been slapped with at least three fines internationally as officials declined to buy Google's excuses about "accidents".  Most recently Google was ordered to pay a $17M USD fine to U.S. federal regulators. It paid a separate $7M USD settlement to U.S. state regulators and a $189,000 USD settlement to regulators in Germany.  Google faces similar or potentially even bigger fines in other European Union member nations

Google Street View
Google claimed it snooped on users on "accident" despite internal emails revealing it did so for profit.  The company has been fined multiple times for the spying. [Image Source: Jacopast/Wikipedia]

In addition to mugs, the material is also printed on pre-washed T-shirts made from socially conscious fabrics.  The shirts are the work of American Apparel, Inc. (NYSEMKT:APP), the "fair-trade" espousing brand beloved by hipsters across the country.

The quote is surprisingly edgy and internet culture aware, as it seemingly hops on board the popular "Keep calm and carry on" meme, which was originally based on a  humorous World War II propoganda poster from the UK.

It's also somewhat surprising as the memorabilia uses Google's trademarked Chrome logo with no indication that Google permitted Microsoft to use it, or even an acknowledgement that Google is the logo's owner via a trademark or copyright symbol (trademarks are generally more appropriate, although often a broad set of design features is copyrighted or even patented).

Scroogled shirt

Google in fact appears to explicitly ban this, stating:

Don't display a Google Brand Feature in a manner that is in Google's sole opinion misleading, unfair, defamatory, infringing, libelous, disparaging, obscene or otherwise objectionable to Google.

Further common sense tells you that appropriating a company's well-known logo for use in selling your products is probably intellectual property theft.  And insulting the owner while using their logo to sell your products -- that's just adding insult to injury.

A Microsoft product description states:

A vintage line, reworked to reflect a modern problem. Printed on an American Apparel 50/50 t-shirt, pre-washed for minimal shrinkage.

Breathe in, breathe out. It won’t be long before Google has attempted to make money off of every aspect of your digital life. This t-shirt lets them know that you know. It's 50% cotton, 50% polyester blend, and pre-laundered for minimal shrinkage.

Again, there's no sign of any trademarks/etc. on the store page.

Keep calm scroogled

Edgy?  Trendy?  Illegal?  IP theft?  Funny?  It appears Microsoft's new campaign may be all the above.  It wouldn't be surprising to see this one wind up in court... but Google faces a lose-lose scenario as if it does sue Microsoft it's bringing attention to its own privacy offenses and risks looking losing its "cool cred" by appearing litigious.  

After his largely failed prior attempts, it appears Mike Penn has finally crafted a scenario in which Google just can't win.  His new product line marks a significant improvement in Microsoft's efforts to troll Google, practically begging them in a legal sense -- "Come at me, bro."

It should be interesting to see if Google responds.

Sources: Microsoft, Google Logo/Trademark Policy

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By Shadowself on 11/20/2013 7:40:22 PM , Rating: 4
Microsoft might get away with it even in a legal battle as a parody. There has been a long history in the US of allowing the use of trademarked and copyrighted materials in parodies.

It is interesting to note that the coffee cups are currently sold out. Did Google employees buy them all as souvenirs?

RE: Parody?
By Reclaimer77 on 11/20/2013 8:43:52 PM , Rating: 2
I don't know about the mug, but I can't imagine anyone being thick enough to walk around in public wearing that shirt lol.

RE: Parody?
By ritualm on 11/20/2013 9:23:23 PM , Rating: 1
If Google gets its way and manages to block Microsoft from selling those things, we might as well start redefining 'freedom of speech' and 'freedom of expression'.

You will never be able to wear a t-shirt that says "Poke me and die" just because it parodied the Pillsbury Doughboy mascot.

RE: Parody?
By YearOfTheDingo on 11/20/2013 9:30:19 PM , Rating: 2
From a trademark infringement standpoint, there's probably no problem. The message is unequivocally critical. No reasonable person would assume the shirt and mug are made by Google.

Google might be able to sue for defamation though. What Microsoft is saying here is that the Chrome browser and Chrome OS steal your data. I don't know if such a claim is tenable.

RE: Parody?
By FaaR on 11/21/2013 7:38:29 AM , Rating: 5
Parody and/or sarcasm doesn't have to be tenable; in fact it's probably the defining traits of both that they aren't... What might trip MS up though - and I'm not a lawyer or anything - is that they're not just expressing this sentiment publically (like in ads or somesuch); they're actively producing, marketing and selling these things with copyrighted google logos and trademarks on them.

I think that's not gonna fly very far in a courtroom brawl. After all, you can't produce and sell, say your own Star Wars figures with lucasarts/disney logos, even with critical messages printed on them. You'll have packs of dobermann attack lawyers bearing down on you in an instant if you try.

The really stupid thing about all this though? What exactly is Google doing that MS itself is not? Nothing. (Well, except for getting caught/sued for tresspassing on peoples' wifi networks of course.) They've even speculated going much further than Google ever has, creating papers discussing the viability of harvesting marketing and demographics information via kinect cameras and such. That takes spying and stealing of information to a wholly new level.

RE: Parody?
By Da W on 11/21/2013 8:51:10 AM , Rating: 2
they're actively producing, marketing and selling these things with copyrighted google logos and trademarks on them.

A comedian might produce, market and sell ticket to his show based on parody. Same concept, it's allowed.

RE: Parody?
By Cheesew1z69 on 11/21/2013 11:55:04 AM , Rating: 2
A comedian might produce, market and sell ticket to his show based on parody. Same concept, it's allowed.
If only this were comedy, it's not and they are using a trademarked logo to bash Google, it's not even CLOSE to being the same thing.

RE: Parody?
By ClownPuncher on 11/21/2013 12:11:23 PM , Rating: 2
Prove it.

RE: Parody?
By FaaR on 11/22/2013 2:13:38 PM , Rating: 3
A comedian's show is free speech. Manufacturing and selling goods is trademark infringement, possibly plagiarism.

RE: Parody?
By YearOfTheDingo on 11/21/2013 12:43:57 PM , Rating: 2
The exception on parody only apply to infringement cases. It's not a defense against tort. Defamation is relatively hard to prove in the US, but businesses tend to enjoy less First-Amendment protection. Making a statement with no factual basis is dicey. Google is unlikely to sue though, since that'd only draw more attention to it.

RE: Parody?
By Just Tom on 11/21/2013 1:25:44 PM , Rating: 3
Google is unlikely to sue because the underlying fact is Google did indeed steal data. The best case against defamation is the truth.

RE: Parody?
By coburn_c on 11/21/2013 12:39:56 AM , Rating: 2
A long history? You mean a constitutional right, a last vestige of constitutional rights perhaps.

The Microsoft monopoly actually puts them in a unique position. No one trusts them and that in turn makes them the best company to trust with our privacy.

RE: Parody?
By maugrimtr on 11/22/2013 5:31:02 AM , Rating: 3
As opposed to Google who started encrypting links between their datacentres at the first whiff of the probability that the NSA were intercepting those intra-centre communications? Google has two facets - it must collect lots of data about you so it can push ads more efficiently and it does guard that data with diligence and enthusiasm.

Yahoo and Microsoft share the first motive but have never struck me as being enthusiastic about the second. Yahoo will be encrypting links between datacentres from 2014. Microsoft is presently reviewing its policies since it also has no intra-server encryption. Yahoo and Microsoft are also behind the curve in reporting government requests to the public.

So really, who should we trust then it comes to privacy? The company that encrypts stuff and discloses data on government requests to it, or the two companies which historically have not until forced into it?

That said, stealing data has already gotten Google fined in Europe twice with more to come. So technically, the t-shirts are parody and protected speech. The problem is that parody relies on people not interpreting the statement as being factual. We know Google were caught stealing data, ergo we know the statement is presently untrue (unless Google are really dumb), ergo the statement is parody. If the t-shirt/mugs were sold next year, with more distance from the data stealing events, people might interpret the text as referring to some other future event, ergo it has transformed into libel.

Parody is protected so long as people KNOW it's parody.

"Google fired a shot heard 'round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people." -- Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.)

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