"Face" May Be Off Limits To Social Media Wannabes & "Facebucks"?

Facebook is no stranger to litigation. Anyone who has read the books and seen the hit movie "The Social Network" knows what Mark Zuckerberg and his ubiquitous social network have been up against over the course of the last 6 years. But what does this mean to intellectual property and Web sites that are currently using the coveted word "face" in their titles today?

Lawsuits from the "double-your-pleasure-double-your-fun" twins, the Winklevii and Eduordo Saverin are almost urban legends at this point. But back then, it was all about who "really" owned Facebook. Today, now that Zuckerberg has taken complete control, paid off his earlier partners and has scaled the network to over 500 million, he's seems to still maintain a sense of paranoia regarding others stealing from his cookie jar.

In previous posts, I portrayed the CEO as a "Social Media Bully" who similar to a kid with Asperger's doesn't "like to share." With his original target, he threatened the Web sites of "Teachbook" and "Lamebook"  with lawsuits for using the word "book" in their titles. While Lamebook is fighting back, a site called "Placebook" took the threat serious and actually changed their name to "TripTrace."

Many see Facebook's approach as frivolous and foolhardy, particularly those that have already used the word "book" in their titles such as "Quickbooks" and "eBook." This apparently has caused Zuckerberg to back-peddle some. However, if a bully can't get what he wants, he often shifts his focus to other targets. And that seems to be the case here.

In several reports, the social-networking giant has filed to trademark the word "face." According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, a "Notice of Allowance" has given Zuckerberg the greenlight, and according to many, it appears he has a good shot at winning the motion.

In a Fox News report, a trademark of this sort would "help throw the book at the competition." GoDaddy.com, for instance, one of the world's largest domain name registers owns 53,000 domain names containing the word "face" in their titles. The company estimates that collectively the Internet currently has 89,000 domain names containing the word "face" just in the dot.com world. This doesn't account for the dot.nets, and dot.orgs having thousands more.

The report goes on further to say that a trademark can cover a variety of things, from the audible jingle in commercials, telecommunications services, chat rooms and potentially other intellectual properties.

So where does this put a graphic novel that satirizes Facebook? With the word "face" in its title, "Facebucks & Dumb F*cks" is a parody that lampoons the origins of Facebook and its current battles with Internet giants such as Google. According to Wikipedia, "parody is a work created to mock, comment on, or make fun at an original work… by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation. "Facebucks & Dumb F*cks" not only pokes fun at Zuckerberg (aka Z-Man) and FB (aka Facebucks), it also parodies some of the plot points in the recently released movie, "The Social Network."

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And under the United States Copyright Law, this type of intellectual property can be protected from claims by the copyright owner of the work under the "fair use" doctrine. As a precedent, in 2001, the United States Court of Appeals upheld the right of Alice Randall to publish a parody of "Gone with the Wind" called "The Wind Done Gone," which told the same story from the point of view of Scarlett O'Hara's slaves, who were glad to be rid of her.

In "Facebucks & Dumb F*cks," the story is told by the online cartoon character "kidd millennium," who earned a reputation over the last 10 years by skewering the US' previous president and his pre-emptive strikes against the the War on Terror.

Zuckerberg's pursuit to protect his social network's name seems pointless at this juncture. Perhaps, in its early years, when the network was ramping up and making a name for itself, this type of protection would have made sense. But today, it just adds fuel to the fire and sustains the founder's "bad boy" image. While labeling his blind faith followers as "dumb f*cks" back in 2003 could be dismissed as a youthful transgression, pursuance of frivolous trademarks like this makes one wonder if you really can't change a tiger's stripes.

One could only imagine if Sean Parker hadn't talked Zuckerberg out of dropping the word "the" from "thefacebook," (the network's orginal name) -  whether he'd be seeking trademarks today, to protect that word as well?

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For more posts, on Facebook's litigation and "Facebucks & Dumb F*cks," check out some of my previous posts.