So you would think a big company like Hasbro would be happy that they have fans so dedicated to their products that they promote them for you…
Martyn Yang of Canberra, Australia was one such fan. He loved NERF guns so much that he set up a blog to talk about them and similar products, and to interact with other fans that shared his passion. The NERF fan site, Urban Taggers, featured reviews, product descriptions, and general posts about the fun of playing with NERF toys, Super Soakers, and Laser Tag.
Then one day Yang posted a review of an item called the N-Strike Elite “Rampage” Blaster, an unreleased NERF gun not yet available in stores, but that was widely available on both eBay and its Chinese counterpart, Taobao. Not long afterwards, Hasbro contacted Yang offering to give him some free items that he could give away to his readers, and asked for his mailing address. Yang happily sent them the requested information, only to receive a letter from Hasbro’s lawyers instead.
The letter demanded that Yang take down the review of the unreleased product, and also sought the contact information of the person who had given him the info on it, asking for their name, address, email, and IP address.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, even after Yang cooperated by removing all references of the unreleased gun from his website, including the review at the center of the debacle, he continued to be harassed by Baker and McKenzie, the law firm that was representing Hasbro, for not turning over the information on his sources. Yang referred to provisions of the Australian Evidence Act, and then explained that the toys and images could be found easily online.
After another email from the law firm expressing concerns over the site’s seeming ability to access and review NERF products before they were available in stores, citing two more models that had been featured on the site – the Vortex Nitron, and the Rayven – they again reiterated how urgent it was that they track down how these samples were obtained.
Yang did not reply any further, because he had a life, and he had already told them that the items could be found on eBay or Yaobao. One wonders if the need was so dire, why the law firm was incapable of performing a simple internet search themselves, or why they weren’t targeting the merchants selling the items online, versus a NERF fan site that simply reviewed (and did not sell) said products.
Yet, and here’s where things pass from mildly annoying and inconvenient to downright absurd, the firm then sent two representatives to Yang’s apartment, who were spotted by neighbors waiting around outside his apartment all day and who ambushed him with a tape recorder. After confronting the two individuals, one of whom identified herself as “Christine”, Yang shot off another email to Robert Arnold, the Baker & McKenzie partner he had been communicated with, expressing his dismay with the situation.
I realise I forgot to get back to you because I have been busy with work and non-Nerf matters but I really think that it was extremely unprofessional and wrong to send strange people to come and lurk around my apartment block menacingly like that. You really freaked out the neighbours and people who live nearby mentioned some strange woman and a big-looking repo-man-looking guy hanging around suspiciously.
First of all, you’re lucky that no one called the police. Secondly, I really do not appreciate being ambushed by lawyers or their representatives on a Sunday afternoon when I haven’t done anything wrong, I have taken down the images and it’s not my fault that neither you nor Hasbro seem to be able to find out whoever the original source of the guns. It would also have been appropriate to give me forewarning so that I could have a lawyer present.
I’ve told your friend ‘Christine’ what I know but it was extremely rude to just show up on my doorstep and scare my neighbours like that. Regarding Nitro and Rayven – I really wish that you’d been up front and mentioned the products in question in your first letter, it could have saved everyone a lot of time and Hasbro a lot of legal fees.
Regarding the “Vortex Nitron” and “Rayven”, these products are freely available for purchase online at this website: http://www.taobao.com/index_global.php. I don’t have the listing details anymore, but if you search for Nerf stuff there, you should find it. I realise that the products weren’t officially released yet but it’s not my fault they were on taobao and it’s pretty common to find promo stuff on taobao/ebay that the recipients have decided to sell online … I’ve showed your friend Christine the site but I really can’t be expected to teach people how to use an internet search engine. You’ll also have to learn how to read Chinese. I don’t read Chinese so I can’t help you there.
So — I really hope that that’s it. As I keep telling you, my website is public and I receive a LOT of correspondence and most of it is anonymous. As I have also told you, in future I will include URL links so that it’s clear to Hasbro where images came from but I really can’t go back and identify old information received – as you can appreciate, it is the internet – people rarely use real names unless you know someone in real life named spunkypineapplehead666 (that’s just a hypothetical example by the way). I mean for all I know, spunkypineapplehead666 could be an 88 year old granny in Florida or even be someone like YOU given that it’s the internet.
The reason I didn’t see the point in talking to you is that:
1. It seems wrong for Hasbro to have to spend more in legal fees just so that I can tell you again over the phone that I can’t help you because I don’t have the information you seek (apart from giving you the taobao link) when I’ve already told you this several times in email.
2. I really don’t have the information you seek and I know that you probably don’t mean it that way, but I don’t think it’s right for a law firm to try to make me feel like I should be fabricating information just to bring this matter to a close. I know I’m not a lawyer or anything but that just seems really wrong to me … It also seems wrong to send strangers to my house without warning. If I’d known you were going to show up like that, I’d have had a lawyer present for what would seem to many people to be unprofessional and intimidating conduct.
If it makes you happy, in future, if other people come to me trying to give me information, I’ll tell them to go away. That being said, I also don’t think I am going to get any more leads on Nerf products, given everything that is happening so I am really a dead end in terms of your chain of investigation.
There really isn’t anything more I can do for you given that:
- the images have been taken down
- I will tell future people to go away (yes, I would rather tell them to go away rather than dob)
- I will attribute images in future
- I don’t have the information you seek
- I don’t see any problem with buying nerf products off of taobao or ebay.
Please don’t send people around anymore. Your time would seriously be better spent looking up taobao and Google.
The entire email exchange can be read on Crikey.
More than anything else, what’s most distressing about this incident – aside from the obviously unnecessary hassle and stress caused to an individual by a large corporation over a trivial matter that’s completely outside his control – is that Hasbro is pushing away once of it’s own (previously) loyal and vocal fans. This is a person who was promoting their items for them free of charge, and helping to get other fans excited about their products. And how is he rewarded for his efforts? Send the lawyers on him!
Since the incident many have threatened to boycott Hasbro, but in the end, regardless of whether their sales suffer or not, the damage to their reputation has already been done. Other companies would all do well to learn from Hasbro’s bad example, and customers and fans of products should keep these types of events in mind when interacting with major brands online.