Thursday, 28 April 2016

Instagram v Littergram

BBC News reports how Instagram has insisted that a UK anti-littering campaign called Littergram change its name. The UK site, and the associated app, encourages people to take photos of litter and report it to their local authority - taking advantage of the power of social media for a socially useful purpose. Unfortunately being all about photo-sharing, it trod on Instagram's toes too heavily for the comfort of Instagram's owner, Facebook, who seem to be emerging as one of the biggest bullies in cyberspace.

Why on earth should there be the slightest problem between Instagram and Littergram? What possible likelihood of confusion is there? It's a prime example of a big trade mark owner seeking to turn the limited rights granted by trade mark law into something more like copyright - or even a patent-style monopoly. Essentially their argument boils down to the proposition that they own exclusive rights in the suffix "-gram", because there's certainly no similarity between "Insta-" and "Litter-" except the number of syllables and the sound of the second one of them.

But hang on a moment - "-gram" has nothing to do with photography anyway. It refers to writing (e.g. epigram) or drawing (e.g. diagram). So what are they getting so proprietorial about? And why doesn't Littergram go for something more relevant - - "Littergraph" strikes me as rather better. Or did the founder perhaps deliberately choose to make the allusion to the better-known photo-sharing service?

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