I’ve known Bas Grasmayer for many years, and he’s a super insightful digital/music strategist and has written a bunch of posts for us over the years. He tends to be on the cutting edge of any digital music startup — so it’s little surprise that he first got a Soundcloud account way back in 2008 or 2009, soon after Soundcloud started. His account is at soundcloud.com/bas/ because, well, that’s his name. So it was a bit of a shock for Bas to get this notice from Soundcloud yesterday:
If you can’t read that, it says:
We are writing to inform you that a SoundCloud user has reported trademark infringement regarding your URL “https://soundcloud.com/bas” and Display Name “Bas”. They have provided verified proof of trademark ownership. Accordingly, we are writing to request that you please change your URL and Display Name so that they do not include any version of “BAS”.
If your URL and Display Name are not changed within the next 48 hours, we may have to suspend your account, on the grounds of trademark infringement. Please make these changes within the next two days, to avoid any consequences in this situation.
Thank you very much for cooperation and please let us know if you have any questions about this.
SoundCloud Trust & Safety Team
Did you get that? Bas Grasmayer is not allowed to use any version of his own damned name in a URL or Display Name. Of course, if you’re in SoundCloud’s shoes, you’re in a tough spot. They don’t want to get sued, and the intermediary liability protections around trademark are even weaker than they are for copyrights.
After writing back to SoundCloud with a “hey, but that’s my name…” message, the company has told Bas if he can prove that’s his name then maybe, just maybe, the company can push back on his behalf:
The key portion in that one reads:
“…their [sic] is an exception within the Trademark Directive that may apply in your case. This exception states that trademark owners can’t prevent an individual from using their own name in the course of trade. If we receive documentation proving that your name is “Bas”, we will be able to push back and reject the trademark infringement claim.
That’s better than nothing, but still seems silly that Bas needs to go about proving his name is Bas just to keep his account or to use his name anywhere on his own account.
The problem here isn’t so much SoundCloud, which is in a tough spot due to ridiculous laws, but with the nature of trademark law itself and how it’s been expanded and twisted over the years. Again, the original intent of trademarks was for consumer protection — to distinguish one company’s products from another’s. It’s not like people are going to go to Bas’ SoundCloud page and freak out that it’s not the trademarked’ “BAS'” page.
Of course, over the years there have been other disputes involving trademarks and people’s names. Most famously there was the years-long legal fight over Nissan.com (which we wrote about back in 2001) between the car company Nissan and a dude named Uzi Nissan who ran a computer repair business under his own name. Either way, Bas has responded with evidence that his name really is Bas, and also questioned that anyone might confuse him with a musician who trademarked Bas.
It’s fairly ridiculous that these kinds of disputes keep happening, but it’s the result of over aggressive trademark laws in a world where our basic namespace has put little emphasis on the need to be unique. While you can quibble over whether or not everyone should have unique names, we shouldn’t be stripping or shutting down long term internet accounts just because someone jumps in years later with a trademark claim.