Nothing says you love your fans like sending them a cease and desist order. That happened to be the spin the Ikea PR folks had to deal with when they threatened legal action to shut down the uber-popular Ikea fan site, IkeaHackers.net.
Here is how IkeaHackers.net founder, Jules Yapp (a pseudonym) described the situation on June 14: "Some months ago I received a cease and desist (C&D) letter from the agent of Inter Ikea Systems B.V., citing that my site Ikeahackers.net has infringed upon its intellectual property rights. In that letter they asked that I agree to voluntarily transfer the domain name Ikeahackers.net to them, failing which they reserve the right to take any legal action it deems necessary against me."
IkeaHackers.net is a website where people post photos and plans of how they created new furniture from combining and changing standard Ikea furniture. Somebody would make a soap dish out of a metal spoon. Someone else would show how they used Ikea glass vases to make a privacy wall for a bathtub.
The problem was, in part, that the site was called IkeaHackers.net.
"From the perspective of Ikea’s lawyers, you can certainly see why a site called Ikea Hackers that suggests alternate uses for your products could cause a number of issues for your brand, including safety and trademark infringement," state a post on the blog Vervecast.com. "But it’s worth noting that Ikea waited eight years to do anything about the site. (Note: It may have something to do with ads recently appearing on the site, since there is now a commercial interest.)"
Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan at Gizmodo said Ikea's actions were a mistake by "a company that prospers from the devotion of its fans. It's hard to find a person who doesn't foster a little kernel of Ikea love in their heart, like a Swedish meatball warming on a metal rack. IkeaHackers is a place to talk about that love and share creative ideas about it. It's harmless fun, a burgeoning community of fans who are excited about Ikea and the hidden genius of its products. And what's more, it gets more people excited about the company (and into its stores)."
Fan reaction on Twitter to Ikea's move against Yapp lends credence to Campbell-Dollaghan's view:
"Bad move by #Ikea. #Ikeahackers was actually encouraging more sales," tweeted ‏@PranoyG.
@csdesignla tweeted, "#IKEA has just ordered the shutdown of one of their best forms of free advertising ever. Why?"
‏@bennyhojholt called it "Bad judgment."
Ikea responded to the tweets: "Ikea appreciates the enthusiasm of the Ikea Hackers blog! It will continue as a fan-based webpage without commercial elements."
But author and copyright activist Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing.net complained that Yapp may have unnecessarily acquiesced to Ikea.
"There's no trademark violation here — the use of Ikea's name is purely factual," Doctorow said. "The fact that money changes hands on Ikeahackers (which Ikea's lawyers seem most upset about) has no bearing on the trademark analysis. There is no chance of confusion or dilution from Ikeahackers' use of the mark. This is pure bullying, an attempt at censorship."
But, Yapp said she agreed to remove the ads.
Late on June 18, Ikea backed off.
According to Jennifer Karmon at Yahoo Homes, Ikea sent a statement that said the company regrets the situation it created: "It has of course never been our ambition to stop their webpage. On the contrary, we very much appreciate the interest in our products and the fact that there are people around the world that love our products as much as we do. We are now evaluating the situation, with the intention to try to find a solution that is good for all involved."
According to Yapp, Ikea talked with her and said that "Ikea would like to dialogue with me to find a new way forward. What does that mean? I don’t know yet. But I am hopeful, though my guard is still up. From our conversation, I do not have to make any changes to Ikeahackers (including the ads) till we settle on an agreement."
Whether Ikea's softening approach will restore the goodwill of its fans remains to be seen and will probably depend upon the final agreement. Meanwhile, people continue to post Ikea hacks to the website such as using scrap paper to spruce up a dresser, or gluing two bowls together to make a bigger bowl or making a step-stool out of a cabinet.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @degroote