Techdirt has covered its fair share of idiotic legal threats over trademarks, but the following example is spectacular even for a field that has many superb examples of corporate bullying. It concerns the village of Copthorne (population 5,000), in the English county of West Sussex. It’s rather well established: it’s been around for a thousand years, and is mentioned in the Domesday Book, which was compiled in 1086. Recently, though, its village association was threatened with legal action for using the name ‘Copthorne’ on its Web site, as the Plymouth Herald newspaper reports:
A residents’ association in the village of Copthorne was threatened with legal action by a multinational hotel chain founded there — for using the name Copthorne.
Brand protection officers acting on behalf of Copthorne Hotels, which has a large hotel in Plymouth, wrote to the small local group — saying it was infringing its trademark.
As that notes, the hotel chain took its name from the village where it was founded. But there’s no sign of gratitude for that in the threatening letter the residents’ association received from Millennium & Copthorne International Limited (MCIL), which owns 33 hotels around the world:
It has come to our attention that you have registered, without MCIL’s permission or authorization, the domain name [copthornevillage.org], which includes a protected trademark of MCIL. This unauthorized use of MCIL’s intellectual property falsely suggests MCIL’s association with or endorsement of your website and is likely to cause confusion in the minds of the public that the website is associated with or connected to MCIL and the products and services offered by Millennium Hotels & Resorts. As a result, substantial damage is likely to occur to the goodwill and reputation of these trademarks.
We require that you immediately disable all content hosted at copthornevillage.org and allow the domain name to expire. Please confirm by return that you have done so within five (5) working days of the date of this letter.
After the village group sent off a “strongly-worded letter” mentioning its millennial history, that threat was rescinded. Millennium and Copthorne communications advisor Peter Krijgsman is quoted by the Plymouth Herald as saying:
“I can now confirm the ‘cease and desist’ letter sent to the Copthorne Village Association was sent in error in the course of an exercise carried out by Mark Monitor, a brand monitoring/protection agency.
“Mark Monitor will be contacting the administrator of the Copthorne Village Association website to explain this and to apologise for any inconvenience.”
The “sent in error in the course of an exercise” excuse sounds rather unlikely; this is surely yet another example of legal threats being fired off without even looking at the facts of the case, something that happens all-too-often in the world of trademarks. At least the company concerned admitted the error and apologized — something that by contrast happens all-too-rarely.