Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/09/21/lowes_threatens_legal_action/

Retailer sets legal attack dogs on protest website

Unhappy customer didn't get permission to register 'Lowe's-Sucks' site

By Dan Goodin

Posted in Law, 21st September 2007 22:56 GMT

Allen Harkleroad was so unhappy with a $3,500 fence he paid Lowe's Home Centers to have installed that he posted pictures he says document the shoddy workmanship on a site called lowes-sucks.com. Now attorneys for Lowe's are threatening legal action unless the site is taken down.

"Your use of the Lowe's Marks and your registration of www.lowes-sucks.com is unauthorized by LF, distorts the goodwill of LF's federally-registered trademarks and constitutes an infringement of LF's trademark rights," a letter penned by an attorney said. (LF refers to the company that manages Lowe's trademarks.) "In view of the above, LF hereby demands that you immediately cease using the Lowe's marks on www.lowes-sucks.com, www.designertoday.com, and any other websites owned or operated by you and/or the MediaPublishers.com division, and agree not to utilize any marks going forward without our written authorization."

For the record, there are no Lowe's logos on the site, and Harkleroad emphasizes there is no affiliation between his site and various Lowe's companies.

Harkleroad said on his site he has no intention of caving in to the demands and has threatened to sue counsel for what he says is their abuse of the Lanham Act, the trademark statute the lawyer invoked in her nastygram.

"I also might remind you that USC 15 1125(a) is in correct (sic) in regards to your claim of infringement, you need to come up with something better than that," Harkleroad wrote. "Better go grab that US Code book you are referring from and find something that you believe matches more closely."

The dust-up is the latest example of large companies using the legal system to quell internet postings they find damaging. Once upon a time, people who were unhappy with a company's products or service had few recourses. With the emergence of the net, they now have a gigantic megaphone with which to complain.

Last week a software developer sued the owner of a site called Whirlpool for allowing comments in forums that criticized its products. The company, 2Clix Australia Pty. Ltd, has informally agreed to withdraw that suit, according to this post.

Not all companies who find their names or likenesses besmirched online seem to be quite as litigious. A site called ebaymotorssucks.com that reports on scams taking place on the eBay Motors site has existed for a while now with no legal action from the online auction house.

Harkleroad says he complained to Lowe's after a chain-link fence was installed that had gaps big enough to allow his dogs to repeatedly escape from his yard. He says he repeatedly complained to Lowe's but was never able to get the problem resolved. He then refused to pay the remaining money he owed for the work and created the lowes-sucks site documenting the entire incident.

After receiving the threatening letter, Harkleroad has begun to question if Lowe's is trying to trample on his right to publicly criticize the company.

We asked a spokeswoman about this. Her response: "We appreciate the opportunity to respond, because Lowe's takes customer service very seriously. I assure you that our customer service team is looking into the issues raised by Mr. Harkleroad." ®