British clothing giant ASOS is seeking ownership of the word “collusion” in domain names according to a cease and desist letter sent to an EFF client. According to a post on the EFF blog, their client’s “domain doesn’t have anything to do with clothing—it’s about contemporary U.S. political debates. It is about as far from trademark infringement as possible.” Tuesday EFF sent a response letter demanding ASOS withdraw its baseless threat.
In their post, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) explains the full backstory as “something of a Russian nesting doll of stupidity. It begins with Rudy Giuliani, former New York mayor and current attorney to President Donald Trump. Last year, some Twitter users noticed that Mr. Giuliani was making typographical errors in his tweets in a way that inadvertently created well-formed URLs. A September 15, 2018 tweet read, in part, as follows: ‘#REALNEWS: Woodward says no evidence of collusion.So does Manafort’s team.’”
“After seeing this tweet, our client registered ‘collusion.so’ and directed the URL to the Lawfare blog’s coverage of connections between President Trump and Russia. Other people have also registered the domain names of Giuliani typos. Giuliani, who was once named a cybersecurity advisor to Trump, falsely claimed that Twitter was ‘invading’ his tweets.”
“What does this have to do with clothes, you ask? Well, in October 2018, Asos launched a new clothing line called ‘Collusion.’ It describes Collusion as ‘a new fashion brand offering bold, experimental, inclusive styles for the coming age.’ Not content with a vaguely dystopian branding choice, Asos followed up by sending a threatening letter to our client claiming that the registration of collusion.so infringes its trademark.”
“Asos’s lawyers are accusing our client of ‘taking unfair advantage of ASOS’ reputation in the COLLUSION brand and the COLLUSION trade mark by luring customers to your website for your own gain.’ This is absurd. Our client wasn’t even aware of the Collusion brand until Asos sent its letter. Our client registered collusion.so as a satirical comment on Giuliani’s tweet and the state of U.S. politics. No one is going to confuse Lawfare’s Trump-Russia coverage with Asos’s self-described ‘ultimate youth label.’”
But ASOS and their lawyers didn’t do their homework. EFF’s client registered their domain name before Asos launched its Collusion label and further, “the URL points to a page about the political meaning of collusion—not to anything about clothing.”
“Asos’s letter to our client opens with large-type red text: ‘Failure to respond to this letter may result in further legal action being taken without further notification to you.’ The law firm that sent the threat, Stobbs IP, has a history of abusing the universal domain-name dispute resolution policy, or UDRP, to try to take control of others’ domains. If Stobbs IP tried to do that to our client, it would be yet another attempt at reverse domain hijacking. We hope that Asos and Stobbs IP have enough sense to withdraw their threat.”