Copyright, Technology, Trademarks

Office Depot Sends World’s Worst DMCA Notice To Reddit

I’m always amazed when lawyers send clearly bogus DMCA notices. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out that doing so ends badly. I’m doubly surprised, however, when it comes from big companies that should know better. And, I’m quadruple surprised when one of these companies that should know better sends a completely bogus DMCA notice to a company that absolutely understands why the notice is bogus, and is also in a position to make the world know all about a company’s bogus DMCA notice. That’s what we have here. You see, this morning, Office Depot decided to send a DMCA to Reddit.

Yes, to Reddit….

Now, yes, it’s possible that someone posted copyrighted material to Reddit, for which a DMCA could possibly be appropriate. But this isn’t one of those cases. The complaint is about this r/circlejerk post by heisenberg69 from seven months ago. I imagine that post isn’t going anywhere, but just in case it is, I’ve also embedded the screenshot that Office Depot helpfully included with the DMCA notice to Reddit. As you can see, heisenberg69 posted a link to this imgur image of not-quite a swastika over the Office Depot logo. We’ll repost it here for you to see:

Of course, as the first comment points out, this isn’t even a swastika. It’s a sauwastika, the Buddhist symbol for peace. Basically, it’s a backwards swastika. Either way, let’s count the many, many, many ways in which this DMCA notice is bogus.

    1. This is not copyright infringement. At all. Office Depot’s Corporate Counsel Jared Namm appears to admit this at the very beginning of his DMCA notice. While he first says it “violates the copyrights and trademarks of Office Depot,” at no point does he explain what copyright is violated, because he can’t. He later points only to “the Office Depot trademark.” But, you cannot use a DMCA for trademark. It is only for copyright. Pretending to use a DMCA claim for a trademark claim is an abuse of the DMCA.
    2. Even if you look at the trademark issue, this is not a trademark issue. Making use of a logo in this manner is in no way an infringement on Office Depot’s trademark. There is no “use in commerce.” There is no likelihood of confusion. And there are many, many, many cases where simply parodying or mocking a logo of a company has been found to be non-infringing. Nazi-izing someone’s logo for the purpose of mocking the company is not infringement.
    3. This is not copyright infringement, part two. After trying out the bogus trademark claim, Office Depot’s Namm claims that the posting is in violation of Reddit’s terms of service. Even if this were true, that’s not a reason to send a DMCA notice.
    4. This is not a violation of Reddit’s terms of service. Again, even if you could send a DMCA based on a violation of the terms of service, this is not a violation of the terms of service. Office Depot argues that this is “defamatory, abusive, harassing, racist, hateful or violent.” I guess you could try to make an argument for “hateful,” but it’s difficult to see how that reaches the level of a terms of service violation.
    5. Merely mocking a company such as Office Depot for having Nazi-like attributes is not hate speech. It may not make much sense, but that’s not how it works. It’s even more ridiculous when you realize this isn’t even a swastika. Amazingly, even Office Depot admits this in the DMCA letter, which Namm adds as if it’s a helpful tidbit:

      A little history on the symbol as well: this particular design is not Nazi related but the original Sauwastika (facing left) vs. the Nazi Germany alteration (facing right). The left facing has been a symbol in Hindu/Buddhist art/texts that predate the Nazi usage by centuries. While this does not dismiss the use of the symbol in conjunction with our logo, in reviewing the posts it appears there is confusion on the symbol, but heisenberg69’s posting of the symbol over the Office Depot logo associates Office Depot with Nazi Germany.

      So, Office Depot admits this isn’t a Nazi symbol, and sends a screenshot in which the top comment, with the most votes on the thread, is pointing out that this isn’t a Nazi symbol… and then still says this posting associates Office Depot with Nazis.

    6. Jared Namm swore “under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.” Yet, despite mentioning copyright, nowhere does he name an actual copyright that’s been infringed, because there hasn’t been one. While he may be able to skate out from under perjury by arguing that the second half of that penalty of perjury clause was “owner of an exclusive right,” again no trademark law has been infringed and you can’t use the DMCA for trademark anyway. It’s not wise to swear under penalty of perjury to something that is almost certainly not true.
    7. The image is not hosted on Reddit. But on Imgur. Which is a different company.
    8. Oh yeah, and this was a Reddit r/circlejerk post from 7 months ago that didn’t get that much attention then and has all but disappeared from view entirely. And now, due entirely to the absolutely stupid decision by either Office Depot Corporate Counsel Jared Namm, or someone above him in management who told him to do this and who failed to heed any suggestion that this was (a) not infringement and (b) a monumentally stupid move, he went ahead and sent this notice, practically guaranteeing that the post and the image would suddenly get renewed life and attention.
    9. And, finally, sending a totally bogus DMCA notice to Reddit? Reddit, who as a community was perhaps the most instrumental community in bringing down SOPA, has no love for bogus copyright claims. Remember, Reddit is the community who organized the massive GoDaddy boycott that got GoDaddy to back down from its support of SOPA (and to eventually turn over almost its entire management team). Poking Reddit with a bogus DMCA stick for what appears to be no reason at all just doesn’t seem smart at all. 

Incredibly, Jared Namm’s LinkedIn profile claims that he advises Office Depot on a variety of intellectual property and social media initiatives. I would imagine that picking a bogus fight with Reddit is not exactly the wisest of “social media” strategies.

The DMCA Notification and Reddit thread at issue on the next page…

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