Friday, January 25, 2008

Ford v Black Mustang Club a misunderstanding

It seems that the apparent legal dispute between Ford and the Black Mustang Club whereby the latter was prohibited from publishing a calendar with pictures of members cars was a misunderstanding. Cory has the story.
There's a couple of interesting lessons for Ford and CafePress to take away from this. For Ford (and companies like it), the lesson is surely to tighten the reins on your legal department. When they send stern letters to online service providers that threaten legal action, the natural outcome is that OSPs are going to get gun-shy -- and they'll tell your fans that they can't do anything and blame it all on you. The usual overkill approach from corporate counsel will come back and bite you on the ass.

For CafePress, the lesson is to take your customers' side when the law is with them. Even if Ford did tell CafePress to kill the BMC calendar, they'd have been wrong. The BMC calendar is legal -- even without Ford's blessing -- and when you protect yourself from legal liability by shutting it down, you incur PR liability by seeming like a bunch of candy-asses who can be bullied into submission by a memo from some white-shoe legal goon from a Fortune 100. Word gets around.

I don't know that we'll ever be able to find out whether CafePress told BMC that Ford was down on their specific calendar, but at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. Ford's earlier letters on the subject clearly scared the hell out of CafePress, and CafePress's lawyers clearly need a refresher course in trademark and liability.

There's one very good piece of news to come out of this, though: Ford's program to let its fans do whatever they want with high-quality shots of the cars is a damned forward-looking and decent bit of strategy.

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