Months ago I warned of an increasing number of online video solution providers copycatting the YouTube logo to create "initial-interest confusion" with consumers. Has YouTube finally started cracking down on this deceptive practice in the industry of video and SEO? Or are they continuing to ignore it, making it increasingly difficult for businesses to be honest?
At the beginning of 2009 I wrote about how a growing number of online video companies were making their own "copycat" versions of the YouTube logo. This was often done to deceive customers into believing they were doing business with a YouTube-sanctioned company, and lure them with a false expectation that doing business with such a company will artificially enhance their performance (especially for SEO) on YouTube, Google, and other search engines. I wrote then about how YouTube had a responsibility to go after businesses engaging in this practice, since not doing so fosters an unfair competitive advantage over other businesses who were willing to follow ethical and legal rules around trademark usage.
This all started back in December of 2008, when I uncovered one company reportedly doing many hundreds, and perhaps thousands of videos with major trademark infringement on the YouTube logo. I called up their Business Development rep to ask if they had received permission from YouTube to do feature their own derivative logo? Their response to me was "no," but they presumed YouTube knew about it and had no problem with it.
I then checked it out with several independent attorneys – all of who reviewed the alleged perpetrator and said it appeared to be blatant trademark infringement, I alerted a Google representative and submitted all of the evidence for their review. (Google is the parent company of YouTube.) It took several attempts over an entire month before I received any response, which is exactly what I received below:
On Dec 31, 2008, at 10:09 AM, Ricardo Reyes <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
I'm sorry we haven't responded till now. We take very seriously any abuse of our brand that could confuse the public. It may take me a little while to got detailed responses to your questions below though.
Let me know how you'd like to proceed.
So I did let them know how I would like to proceed – several times. Here was one of those attempts:
From: ReelSEO <email@example.com>
Date: January 12, 2009 9:11:28 AM CST
To: Ricardo Reyes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: [Youtubepress] Interview request re: trademark violations
Could you please forward on to YouTube's attorneys the information we uncovered about major examples of trademark infringement by video solutions providers. We have found one video solutions provider that is doing this blatantly on many YouTube channels, to the tune of thousands of videos:
I would like to know if your attorneys are reviewing, or will be reviewing this matter soon, and if I could be notified on their findings and actions, since I am bringing this to their attention. Thank you in advance.
Despite several more email attempts, including to YouTube's own press email at email@example.com, no further response was offered by any Google representative; not even a statement from an actual attorney. In fact from all I could see, despite all of my submitted evidence, no action whatsoever had been against the alleged perpetrator, as all of their videos with the infringed trademark are still live.
The company appeared to have gotten wind of my coverage, and now has switched their logo design to no longer appear like their earlier YouTube copycat-version.
I did contact Sister Technologies, the company behind the PushTube brand, asking their reasons for changing their logo design. No response has been received as of yet.
My experience with YouTube was with a total lack of substantive feedback and even any action whatsoever. Meaning, YouTube rewards companies that copycat its own trademark for their own business leverage, screwing over those businesses that not only play by the rules, but attempt to make YouTube follow their own rules they claim to set, and to no avail.
Is YouTube trademark infringement really a big deal?
Yes, if you care about the online marketing and video industry we're in. Put yourself in the shoes of a competitor who does follow the rules of proper trademark usage. If their competitor breaks the law and fools enough people to do business with them under false pretenses and expectations, then it not only hurts the ethical businesses, it hurts the industry of video marketing with shady practitioners that end up leaving customers disgruntled and ending up complaining our whole industry to be shady as a result.
YouTube's should take a serious responsibility to make sure its trademark is not exploited by unauthorized and unlicensed companies and individuals – Not only for its own commercial protection whenever it sees fit, but especially because the YouTube brand is synonymous with reaching a large audience. If some companies are able to exploit that as a promotional tool through consumer confusion of usurping the YouTube brand, then it maligns the true integrity and promise of Video SEO.
Google's long-time mantra has been "Don't be evil." They should start following another saying, "Idle hands are the work of the devil." Its been long time for Google and YouTube to stop being completely idle with trademark infringers that are negatively affecting the legal and commercial integrity of the SEO and online video markets – which Google and YouTube owe their entire commercial success to.
This is not a question of YouTube not having the resources to go after perpetrators. We've seen many instances of YouTube removing individuals' entire accounts when there's a single complaint by a huge media company (like Viacom) over the smallest copyright issue on video content that doesn't even have any commercial purpose. Yet when it comes to companies doing hundreds and thousands of videos with clear trademark copycatting, YouTube appears to do nothing at all there.
So Google and YouTube, quit shitting over the very people that made you famous! Either finally do a purge of trademark infringers, or just come out and say that anyone can do a copycat version of the YouTube trademark. Otherwise if YouTube decides to make an example out of someone down the road, an attorney could sue YouTube on behalf of their client – even a class-action lawsuit possibly – for only doing selective enforcement of their brand that has been heavily diminished by unsavory copycats.
Right now it appears that YouTube may not want to be bothered with ethics of other businesses, until it affects their own bottom line. However if they don't support ethnical businesses people now who report the trademark infringement and other violations, then YouTube may be finding themselves smack in the pile of the very "Video SEO dump" they let happen and did nothing about when they had the chance.
The views expressed above are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the management staff of ReelSEO.com