Hot Docs: Facebook sues for infringement over “Face Book of Sex”

May 19, 2011

Facebook friendfinderIt looks like Facebook has to defend its trademark from genericization already.

To that end, the social networking site is suing Various, Inc., FriendFinder Networks, Inc., and GMCI Internet Operations, Inc. to stop the use of the phrase “Face Book of Sex.”

“Face Book of Sex” is pretty much what it sounds like: it’s an adult networking site that operates for the purpose of connecting people who want sex.

Various, Inc., the parent company to the other two, is actually not as obscure a company as it sounds.

In 2007, Penthouse Media Group, of Penthouse Magazine fame, purchased Various, Inc.  Penthouse then changed its name to FriendFinder Networks.

So in reality, this group of companies is actually Penthouse.

What does Penthouse have to do with sexual social networking?

Not much until it purchased Various, which was the company responsible for the FriendFinder and AdultFriendFinder websites.

Speaking of FriendFinder, the complaint states that Various responded to Facebook’s cease-and-desist letters by claiming that Facebook was infringing on Various’s “FriendFinder” trademark through Facebook’s “friend finder.”

Touché, Various, but not a good legal argument.

As it points out in its complaint, Facebook’s use of “friend finder” is completely descriptive (a feature used to find Facebook friends through email addresses), and bears no resemblance to Various’s networking service that offers to hook up consenting adults.

Hot Doc: Facebook Inc. v. Various Inc.

Source: Westlaw News & Insight – National Litigation

Nor does it seek to wrongfully trade on FriendFinder’s or AdultFriendFinder’s reputation (Facebook probably wants to distance itself as much as possible from these two marks).

The same can’t be said about Various’s use of “Face Book.”

Various is obviously trying to use “Face Book” to trade on Facebook’s reputation, because “Facebook”  was not widely known before the social networking site of the same name came to prominence.

If not for the little issue of trademark infringement, “Face Book of Sex” would have been a great marketing move.

The phrase intends to evoke images of a website like Facebook, but for the purpose of helping its members have sex with one another.

While that idea is anything but pristine, it seems less seedy than AdultFriendFinder, helped in no small part by the use of the term “Face Book.”

And it’s because of this association that Facebook wants to defend the mark.

Facebook has worked hard to maintain a reputation that it’s safe, secure, and kid-friendly.

Confusion about an association between the two sites only hurts Facebook, so naturally, Facebook is suing.

Various’s chances really don’t look great.

When it started using “Face Book of Sex,” Various was either not well-versed enough in trademark law, or thought that “Facebook” was generic enough at this point to safely use the mark.

However, if Various’s removal of the phrase from its sites is any indication, it figured out that it was in the wrong, and would probably lose the lawsuit.

It looks like “Face Book of Sex” was replaced with “SexBook” and the less child-friendly “[expletive]Book.”

This won’t be the last time someone tries to capitalize on Facebook’s reputation.

But with having a hugely successful product like Facebook, regularly defending a trademark comes with the territory.