Source: AP

For three years, self-proclaimed Olive Garden connoisseur Vincent “Vino” Malone has used his blog All of Garden to share his love for the Italian-American restaurant chain. But last week he was bit by the hand that feeds him when he received a cease-and-desist letter.

Malone started his blog after Olive Garden released the first Never Ending Pasta Passes in 2014—vowing to eat nothing but Olive Garden offerings for the entire 49-day run of the pasta-pass season. “Back then I was young, eager, and hungry—determined to eat all the pasta,” Malone told Gizmodo. “This isn’t some flash-in-the-pan attempt at going viral. It’s my passion project.”

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He has undertaken a variation the challenge each year since. In 2015, he used the pass to take 50 different people on 50 first dates—a stunt he called alllovegarden.

But last week, it almost seemed like Olive Garden wasn’t feeling the love. Parent company Darden Corporation emailed Malone on July 19, claiming his use of “Olive Garden” as metatags or keywords on allofgarden.com infringed its intellectual property rights—possibly making visitors think his blog was affiliated with the restaurant chain.

Since All of Garden is a review site and living love letter to Olive Garden food, Malone assumed his use of the brand was fair use. But he turned to Reddit for assistance, sharing the letter in a r/legaldvice post: “Is Olive Garden about to hit me with a neverending bowl of lawsuits?

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Many commenters told him he was in the right. One redditor even checked Google and Bing searches of “Olive Garden” to see if All of Garden came up within the first several pages of listings, to no avail—which suggests the blog isn’t using the brand’s name in a way that is misleading search engines to treat it as if it is an official Olive Garden site.

Mitch Stoltz, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, agreed that Malone has done nothing wrong. “Olive Garden has almost no legal leg to stand on here,” Stoltz told Gizmodo. “A trademark doesn’t create a right to stop all unauthorized uses of a phrase, especially in connection with reviews of a product. It’s perfectly legal to refer to the name of a restaurant on a website, including in its keywords or metatags, when consumers aren’t going to be confused.”

Stoltz assessed that Darden’s letter to All of Garden was “a knee-jerk reaction by overzealous trademark lawyers.”

This situation is similar to a disagreement last month involving architectural criticism blog McMansion Hell and real estate aggregator Zillow. Zillow sent the blog’s author a cease-and-desist letter for using photos taken off their site, but eventually chose not to pursue legal action.

After receiving encouragement from dozens of anonymous posters claiming to be legal experts, Malone decided to send a defiant (and hilarious) response, which we will reproduce in full because it’s incredible.

from:Vino
to:brandenforcements@mm-darden.com
date:Wed, Jul 19, 2017 at 8:47 AM

Mr. Forcements — may I call you Branden? Since this an asynchronous mode of communication, I’m going to assume you are magnanimously acquiescing, and I will refer to you as Branden forthwith — I received your email yesterday.

I am not aware of any law against reviewing food and describing it using the name of the company from which it was procured. Some might even call it Nominative Fair Use. I have helpfully included a link to Wikipedia™, The Free Encyclopedia™, for more information on this concept, in case you are new. Just click on the blue words to access the HyperLink™, and you will be transported there in great haste.

With that in mind, can you be more specific about what you would like me to do? If you want me to remove references to the Olive Garden from my blog, which, I remind you, solely consists of references to Olive Garden, I’m afraid I must decline.

If you are asking me to simply add TradeMark® Symbols™ I must also decline, as I do not know the alt keycode for writing them.

Perhaps you are asking me to take down my blog entirely. In doing so, Darden Corporation would commit its largest crime against humanity since they started charging extra for toppings. Seriously, $2.99 for two lousy meatballs? And you’re saying I ripped you off?

Please respond within nine (9) days, in limerick form.

Wishing the whole Forcements family a pleasant day,

Vincent “Vino” Malone
Olive Garden Connoisseur
Age 29 and a Half

Regardless of the threat, Malone has kept his faith in Olive Garden, and told Gizmodo that he thinks the letter is just “a misunderstanding by an overeager young member of their legal team, or possibly an automated system.”

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And he is right. An Olive Garden spokesperson told Gizmodo that allofgarden.com “was flagged through automated means and the letter was generated.” The company has since reviewed the complaint and determined that no action was necessary.

Unfortunately, Olive Garden did not convey this information in limerick form.