I’m not a lawyer and apparently I shouldn’t play one on TV.
Earlier this month, I told you about Tanner Friedman, a Farmington Hills, Mich. public relations firm, which found itself to be the victim of a brandjacking on Twitter. Rather than give Twitter time to respond to their complaint, the firm’s principal, Don Tanner, immediately went to local media with their plight and subsequently filed a suit in Federal Court in Michigan.
The suit was not filed against Twitter, but against “John Doe”, the person or persons responsible for the fake tweets. Tanner Friedman’s goal was obtain two things: 1) control of the “TannerFriedman” user name on Twitter and the IP address and other registration information by the person(s) responsible.
It turns out, according to the information Twitter was forced to provide to Tanner Friedman, that the person or persons responsible for the fake tweets used a computer with an IP address assigned to Marx Layne & Co., another PR firm in Detroit where Tanner Friedman principals Don Tanner and Matt Friedman once worked. (Apparently when Tanner and Friedman parted ways with the Marx Layne, it wasn’t an amicable split. The two firms ended up in court fighting over who would get what clients.)
While Tanner Friedman won from Twitter exactly what they sought, I am not sure they really won much of a victory at all. Their suit and the media attention they sought for their litigation told me several things about the Tanner Friedman firm and its principals.
- They left their former employer on bad terms — a lawsuit of some sort emerged from the employment relationship. (I don’t know which firm was at fault here, but knowing there was litigation makes me think less of both parties.)
- They were unaware of the brandjacking for three months, something which doesn’t make me think too much of their social media expertise. (Remember, principals from Tanner Friedman were active on Twitter during this entire time.)
- They thought it was a good idea to draw media attention to their lack of social media expertise and what is apparently a long running feud with their former employer.
As for Marx Layne & Company, I’m not wild about employers suing former employees. And I am unimpressed with what Marx Layne managing director Mike Layne told media after the information Twitter revealed implicated his firm. The Detroit News wrote:
Mike Layne, managing partner at Marx Layne, said he’s looking into what happened, but didn’t assume any direct responsibility for what have been labeled as “nefarious tweets.”
“This is not something I would do,” Layne said. “If it was done, it was not done under my direction.”
If it was done? It was done. Now is the time to take responsibility for the employee or employees who acted to harm a competitor. (In fact, the time for Marx Layne to act was on Mar. 27 when Crain’s Detroit Business implicated their firm as responsible for this incident. Yes, they denied responsibility in March, but given their history, wouldn’t it have been prudent to have begun your own internal IT investigation before a lawsuit was filed in this matter?)
The only thing I can say good about this whole episode is that Don Tanner and the Tanner Friedman team know how to work local media in Detroit. They’ve gotten coverage of this dispute in The Detroit News, Crain’s Detroit Business, local TV, some tech websites and some national PR trade journals.
As for me, I would have counseled Tanner Friedman to have handled this matter quietly and without litigation. In my experience and based on what I have heard from other PR professionals, Twitter has been very responsible to trademark claims.