The Internet's anticensorship activists are mobilizing this week to defend the latest unlikely target of the corporate trademark protection police: Bianca's Smut Shack.
It seems that Tandy Corp., owner of Radio Shack, is concerned that the venerable Web site (http://www.bianca.com) will dilute the purity of its gadget geek image.
The Fort Worth, Texas-based company has sent Bianca's cease and desist letters in the past, but the shack showdown is coming to a head this month as a result of Tandy's attempt to block the Web site's application for its own trademark with the Patent and Trademark Office.
In a statement, Tandy said it routinely files such administrative actions to protect its trademarks: "RadioShack," "The Shack," and "Shack." "These marks represent valuable assets and any unauthorized use dilutes their value to the corporation," the statement said.
Founded in 1994 by three friends who wanted to attract a lot of traffic to their site, the Smut Shack is an online community where people talk about sex, among other things. Visited by about 50,000 surfers a day, it contains no pictures. Advertisers include (800) FLOWERS and computer retailers.
In considering Tandy's claim, PTO officials will have to take into account a new law passed last year that protects trademark owners not only against confusion--it's unlikely anyone would jump to the conclusion that Tandy was sponsoring Bianca's--but against "dilution" of the trademark.
If people are likely to start associating "shack" with "smut" rather than electronic components, for example, Tandy might have a case.
"The trademark is a powerful symbol in peoples' minds and you don't want to allow people to say things that change the meaning of that symbol," said Eugene Voloch, a law professor at UCLA and an expert in cyberspace law. "At the same time you can see how this runs up against pretty serious free speech concerns. And the Web may end up a little bit poorer in because it loses some of its color and vividness."
In the spirit of promoting general chaos and defending the Smut Shack, Internet activists are calling on all Web site owners to add "shack" to their name and e-mail protests to Radio Shack.