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Trademarked Logos Appear to Have No Protection on Twitter

Posted in Guest Bloggers, Trademarks

Barry Wise, Co-founder of KnowEm.com

Recently Gap rolled out a new logo (at least on their website – no word yet as to whether the same logo will be used in stores), and already a twitter account impersonating the logo itself is out there – @GapLogo. This is obviously not an official company account, but simply someone who wants to state their opinions and have some fun with the new Gap logo. This is a clear case of trademarked logo infringement — someone has decided to use a brand’s protected image for their own purposes on a social network. What prompted the fake account was apparently an attempt by the Gap to crowdsource ideas for their new logo on Facebook, which has resulted in hundreds of unhappy fans.

Everyone probably remembers the fake @BPglobalPR Twitter account which was created to make fun of BP’s handling of the gulf oil spill. A lot of people questioned the reasons why Twitter allowed them to continue to impersonate a major brand and corporation, but did you take a look at the logo they used? They took BP’s actual trademarked sunburst logo, photoshopped it black and white and added a few oil drips for good measure. Aside from actively impersonating the company’s PR team, they blatantly infringed on the trademarked image.

Twitter does have a Trademark Violation Policy, which states

Using a company or business name, logo, or other trademark-protected materials in a manner that may mislead or confuse others with regard to its brand or business affiliation may be considered a trademark policy violation.

They do assert they will suspend or release an account in violation, but they appear to be either very slow or very reluctant to take any action on this policy.

This kind of logo impersonation raises the question, what kind of protection do brand and trademark owners have on social networks? If large companies like BP and Gap can be so easily impersonated and have their logos misused with no repercussions, what chance do you think your trademarked brand or logo will have in social media?

  • Update: The Gap just announced last night that it will revert back to it’s old logo, due to a firestorm of complaints on social networks, most notably Facebook. Regardless of the trademark implications, it seems everyone just hated the new logo, and the Gap listened and responded.

  • Isn’t there a legal principle of fair use for the purpose of commentary, though?

  • Dan, good question. I guess one question might be whether use of the logo is, in fact, fair. For example, under a nominative trademark fair use analysis, using a logo (as opposed to the just the word trademark) often fails the second element of that test, which examines whether “only so much of the trademark is used as is necessary for the identification.” That said, if the commentary directly relates to the logo image itself, that would seem to qualify, at least under a nominative fair use analysis: https://www.duetsblog.com/tags/nominative-fair-use/