German artist Tobia Leingruber recently published a website called fbbureau, which offered Facebook ID cards to one day replace driver’s licenses and passports, in mocking protest of the high level of personal data the social networking site has on its 800 million users. Facebook did not like this, and its trademark lawyers promptly shut the website down.
Leingruber told Co.Design that he removed his site after a “friendly” conversation with one of Facebook’s lawyers, adding “I’m aware that this art project (which I’m also fully paying out of my own pocket) is definitely protected by freedom of art and freedom of speech. I’m also not selling unlicensed Facebook mugs or something. Still, my art work is conceptual, and I’d rather work on new ideas instead of talking to lawyers. I think the idea and my thoughts have been planted, and so I came to decide that I’m actually fine with taking the website offline.”
Interestingly, Leingruber said that he was conscious of trying to steer clear of violating any copyrights while building his site, and used “FB” instead of Facebook. He was surprised to learn that Facebook is now going after “FB” too. “I didn’t know that Facebook was even going after usage of the letters ‘FB’ as well now. I had those in the domain name and that’s why I decided to avoid too much law talk and just remove it,” said Leingruber. He added that a fellow artist had recently posted Google+ ID cards, and Google didn’t step in.
Elena Paul, executive director of Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, told Co.Design that Leingruber might have a case in the U.S. to go up against Facebook, but essentially added that most artists are too lazy and weak to “go to the mat.” Notwithstanding, Leingruber isn’t totally defeated. He is now walking the streets and handing out FBbureau.com ID cards, that feature a user’s “real name,” FB username, profile picture, gender, location, date one joined Facebook, etc. “We are figuring out a way to not use ‘Facebook’ or ‘Face’ or ‘Book’ or ‘FB’ or ‘F’ on the ID cards that we give out in public,” Leinburger says. “I just hope Facebook Inc. doesn’t trademark the entire alphabet!”