Facebook’s 850 Million Users Agree to Not Name Things ‘Book’ or ‘Face’

Photographer: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg

Facebook's latest terms of service includes “Book” among the trademarks that “you will not use” if you want to be able to log into your account.

Writing a self-defense manual called “Macebook”? You may want to change the name.

Facebook updated its terms of service last week to include “Book” among the trademarks that “you will not use” if you want to be able to log into your account.

“Book” adds to its other previously included trademark claims, including “Facebook,” “Face,” “Poke” and “Wall.” (Are “Friends” and “Like” far behind?)

“They’re really trying to rope you in with the terms of service,” said Jason Schultz, an intellectual-property professor at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Law. “It’s pretty aggressive.”

Facebook’s legal department has been actively pursuing companies that it says violates the social network’s trademarks. With updates to its terms of service, which is the legal document that few people read before choosing to use a service, Facebook is recruiting its 850 million users as unwitting soldiers in its trademark turf war.

A Facebook spokesman declined to comment on the change. Ars Technica reported earlier on this.

Many terms-of-service agreements for software and Internet services reference the company’s copyrights and trademarks, but they are typically written in a less binding way, Schultz said.

“This is a little more heavy handed,” he said. “Part of Facebook’s strategy is to put things into the terms of service that are onerous and burdensome. Probably, all of us violate something in there.”

Facebook’s moves are meant to prevent its names from ending up like elevator, escalator and thermos, all words that were once owned by companies that did not legally protect their trademarks before they became seen as generic terms, Schultz said.

The wording in Facebook’s user agreement sounds like a signed contract that prevents nearly a billion people from naming a product, say, the Wall. (And yes, Pink Floyd is actually on Facebook.) If users break that contract, should they expect to be taken to court? More likely, Schultz said, Facebook would just shut down the offender’s account.

“I don’t think it will necessarily help them in a trademark dispute directly,” he said. “I think this is all part of their attempt to create this walled garden community where no one gets in and out without their permission. They have guards at the gate.”

And if you break their rules, they just might throw the book … I mean, they might throw something at you.

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