O’Reilly, CMP and the Web 2.0 Service Mark

by Devanshu Mehta

The controversy started- for those not paying attention- when CMP served a cease-and-desist letter to an Irish non-profit for using the term “Web 2.0” in the name of their conference. Bad move- the blogosphere went in to attack mode and O’Reilly (who runs the conference and is associated with CMP) will never have quite the same reputation again. Before the blogosphere outrage over “CMP’s claim of Web 2.0 as a service mark for conferences”:http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2006/05/controversy_about_our_web_20_s.html dies down, I have a few things to say.

First, I had this to say at “John Battelle’s blog”:http://battellemedia.com/archives/002596.php

It may start out as protecting your conference name, but in the long run it is a negative move for a company like O’Reilly that prides itself in support for openness in software and technology. For a community that lives around slashdot, digg, wired.com, and the likes, this kind of news will live on forever.

People will be making jokes about “service marking” Web 2.1, 3.0 and 6.9 service pack 2 release candidate 7 for decades, and the joke will be on O’Reilly.

Cory Doctorow’s “piece on the issue was even handed”:http://www.boingboing.net/2006/05/26/can_anyone_own_web_2.html and well done.

Later, after “O’Reilly responded”:http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2006/05/web_20_service_mark_controvers.html and people all around roundly claimed that he missed the point, I agreed:

The heavy, immediate and overwhelming response was precisely because it was O’Reilly (for practical purposes, nobody knows what CMP is) behind the c&d. Any other company and such behavior would have been accepted- in fact, the term would not have been as widely used as it is if the name came from a corporation like Microsoft or Yahoo with a less stellar record of corporate citizenship.

If your reputation is what drives your company and your reputation rides on principles that bloggers and geeks take seriously- privacy, fair use, free/open-ness- you would be better served by keeping your lawyers (and those of people who speak for you) on a much shorter leash. People who represent the O’Reilly name must know what they represent and how serious a C&D letter can be to members of the geek/blogger community.

The issue was entirely a public relations issue and should have been handled as one instead of as a legal issue. You do not hand out cease-and-desist letters to geeks (ever!), you certainly do not hand out c&d letters to non-profit geeks and you do not lash out at the blogosphere for lashing out at you. These are the people that O’Reilly and his empire depend on; not only that, these are the people who believe (somewhat correctly) that O’Reilly is what he is because of them. You _do not_ want to make them angry. So all you geek-serving corporations out there- keep your lawyers on a short leash.