If you're like me, you've spent countless hours surfing IkeaHackers, where Ikea fans send in their mods and hacks. You've also probably spent money at Ikea thanks to the site, which has inspired a DIY fervor among its fans. Which is why Ikea shutting down IkeaHackers this weekend over trademark claims is beyond boneheaded.
IkeaHackers began eight years ago, when a Kuala Lumpur-based Ikea fan who goes by the pseudonym Jules Yap began posting interesting examples of Ikea customers who assembled their furniture in new ways, hacks of existing products that turned them into new and exciting pieces. Since then, the site has blossomed into a booming community of fans, growing to the point that Yap began to sell small ads to support what had become a huge job maintaining the site. That's where the trouble began. Ikea recently sent Yap a cease and desist letter over her use of the trademarked Ikea name. As a result, Yap is giving up her eight-year-old website, as she explained in a blog post.
The LEGO dining table.
This is a huge mistake for Ikea, a company that prospers from the devotion of its fans. It's hard to find a person who doesn't foster a little kernel of Ikea love in their heart, like a Swedish meatball warming on a metal rack. IkeaHackers is a place to talk about that love and share creative ideas about it. It's harmless fun, a burgeoning community of fans who are excited about Ikea and the hidden genius of its products. And what's more, it gets more people excited about the company (and into its stores).
The Expedit Bar.
Now, Ikea is sending a message that there's only one way to put together its products, and it's written in pictograms on the paper they come with. It's petty and tone deaf, a rare misstep for a company that has a knack for good PR. Instead of encouraging a blogger who has spent years creating what amounts to free publicity for Ikea—and helping people find more reasons to buy products they may otherwise have overlooked—the company is bullying her over a tiny amount of advertising revenue.
What's even worse is that Ikea's maneuvering might not even hold water, legally speaking, as Cory Doctorow explained yesterday:
Ikea's C&D is, as a matter of law, steaming bullshit... The fact that money changes hands on Ikeahackers (which Ikea's lawyers seem most upset about) has no bearing on the trademark analysis. There is no chance of confusion or dilution from Ikeahackers' use of the mark. This is pure bullying, an attempt at censorship.
Yap also has a good counter-argument: The Laches defense, which deals with plaintiffs who unreasonably delay making their claims. Eight years is definitely an unreasonable amount of time to wait to enforce an IP claim.
But beyond legal issues,"I was a just crazy fan," says Yap. "In retrospect, a naive one too." Come on, Ikea. You're better than this. Luckily, Yap has plans to recreate the website under a different name, TBD. And wherever she sets up shop, scores of Ikea fans will be right behind.
Update: Ikea has released a statement about its decision, reiterating that IkeaHackers can continue to operate as long as Yap doesn't sell any advertising:
We very much appreciate the interest in our products and the fact that there are people around the world that love our products as much as we do. At the same time we have a great responsibility for our customers, they should always be able to trust the IKEA brand. High quality and good service are essential elements of this. Another important aspect is that the many people want to know what really is connected to IKEA – and what is not.
For that reason the IKEA name and brand must be used correctly. When other companies use the IKEA name for economic gain, it creates confusion and rights are lost.
Therefore we are happy for the agreement between Inter IKEA Systems and IKEA Hackers. IKEA Hackers may continue as a fan-based blog/webpage without commercial elements, just like it started some years ago.
Image: Hacked Expedit via IkeaHackers.