José Avila, a young software developer, appears to be a pretty resourceful fellow. According to Wired News,
...he's locked into two rents after moving to Arizona, and has no extra cash for an Ikea shopping spree. But instead of scouting street corners for a ratty, unwanted couch, Avila got creative and built an apartment full of surprisingly sturdy furniture — out of FedEx shipping boxes. ... [He] has outfitted his entire apartment with FedEx box designs, including a bed, a corner desk with wall shelves, a table, two chairs and a couch.
That's pretty cool, no? Well, no — not if you're a FedEx pettifogger eager to justify your existence and your paycheck. The company's lawyers promptly sent Avila a couple of nastygrams insisting he take down the website showing off his project, supposedly because he's in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
It's hard to see how Avila broke copyright law, and his attorney is rightly nonplussed. These kinds of Goliath-versus-David corporate attacks are usually fought over trademark issues.
But even that's a dead end more often than brand bullies care to admit. The courts generally recognize that trademark law was written to fend off unfair competition. It exists to prevent businesses from being deceptive, so you can’t start a pizza joint and call it Dominoe’s. But if you love Domino’s food, or hate it, and you want to speak up about your pizza preference — or you have a webpage that documents how you built a mansion out of Domino's pizza boxes — no one should stop you. Trademark law was never meant to be used as a club against free speech or free markets.
Seems to me that the squash-the-little-guy suits brought by Mattel, Ford, Disney, and a number of other corporate miscreants are never really about protecting legitimate trademarks — that’s just a smokescreen, or a secondary concern at best. They're about angst over the loss of control. If you can’t control it, you can’t spin it. The Internet has changed the game, a reality many old-economy companies have yet to face.
Clueless corporate citizens like FedEx risk losing millions of dollars in goodwill by their bizarre acts of self-mutilation. They should keep in mind that it's one thing to win in court (although the company almost certainly won't prevail in this case), and another to win in the court of public opinion.