What does it feel like to be contacted by a brand you love and admire? Well, if the person reaching out to you is a lawyer from their trademark protection team it probably feels like a kick in the gut. That’s what happened to me recently when Polaroid contacted me about my app, Grungy.
If you aren’t familiar with Grungy it is an app that applies layers of grunge on top of your photos. Think of it as a photo un-enhancement app for people that prefer wear-and-tear over glossy perfection. It’s is a free app, so check it out if that is your kind of thing. Anyway…
Why would Polaroid contact a small-time app like mine to complain about trademark infringement? Good question.
The accusation came in the form of a multiple choice question because I guess that is how zombie lawyers talk. It said:
Your listing has been flagged for one or more of the following reasons:
1. Use of Polaroid Trademark in the title or description of your listing
2. Use of the Polaroid Classic Border Logo as part of your listing
3. Use of the Polaroid Color Spectrum in your listing
Although Polaroid has apparently tried to get apps removed from the App Store because they add white borders to apps, the actual content of my app is innocent of infringement. The mistake I made was using the word “Polaroids” in my description. I had said,
The authenticity of the grunge comes from the care taken in gathering the textures that power this app. The grunge is hand-picked from a collection of artifacts like glue-tinted wallpaper, rusty vintage labels, film remnants, forrest-fire enhanced panels, Polaroids, severely overexposed slides, sanded plexiglass, dry-transfer laser prints, solar graphs, monographs, ticket scraps, antique camera experiments, chemical stained darkroom remnants, thick layers of billboard paper, overused sandpaper, screen-printed collage, and drawers full of objects that clearly contain the marks and scars of their life.
Guilty? Now, since I literally wrote a book about surviving in a world where creativity is threatened by zombies, I have a good sense about when it is worth engaging the enemy and when your energy is better spent creating art. This is the latter. I removed the offensive word and responded by saying,
Apple recently made me aware of a dispute you had with my app, Grungy. In the description of my app I had used the word “Polaroids” to convey the nostalgic feelings that my app hoped to evoke. I believe I have addressed your concerns regarding trademark infringement by removing this word from the description. You will notice that the word “Polaroids” is no longer used in the description of Grungy.
I have also scrutinized my app for any references to the name Polaroid, logos, trademarks, or anything that could in any way be associated with Polaroid. Rest assured the app itself has never and will never include anything related to Polaroid. Please let me know that this has addressed your concerns and that you consider the matter closed.
Until this incedent I have had nothing but fond feelings about Polaroid. I have spent many hours lovingly repairing and hacking the cameras that survive as artifacts of a once vibrant and thriving company. I have even written about my admiration for the Polaroid brand in the past and the work done by their first art director, Paul Giambarba back in the 50's.
I am tempted to banish Polaroid from my good side, but I think that would be a mistake. They aren’t the first corporation to be overrun by zombies and they won’t be the last. In the meantime, there is still a thriving community of artists (The Impossible Project for example) who find inspiration from the creativity that once made Polaroid great. I still consider myself a part of that camp.
Most people tend to think that trademarks and brands go hand in hand. That’s not really the case. The lawyers and bean counters are the ones who control trademark. The brand exists beyond such a narrow vision. A brand is defined by the users, the public who assign value to the idea that the company represents. If the zombies want to squeeze blood out of the stone of their trademark I won’t stop them. But I refuse to let them redefine the brand that I love so much. At least not yet.