IKEAhackers.net in trademark flap with store it pays tribute to


An IKEA store in Berlin. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

Update: comment from IKEA has been added

Want to make a coffee table out of magazine files or a floor-to-ceiling library from plastic storage bins?

Where there’s an IKEA, there’s a way. The Internet is full of ideas for repurposing furniture and other odds and ends sold by the Swedish home furnishings retailer.

Back in 2006, a blogger calling herself Jules Yap – a pseudonym inspired by Ikea’s Jules chair — realized this and created IKEAhackers.net, an online gold mine of ideas for thrifty do-it-yourselfers, upcyclers and re-inventionists.

The site shows how to turn the standard IKEA Billy bookcase into a mid-century style sideboard, a wine rack, a standing desk and much more.

You’d think Ikea would be thrilled that a site is hyping their goods and giving customers more reasons to come to their store.

But now Ikea has been trying to shut her down.

On Saturday, Yap posted the bad news. “I am crushed,” she wrote. Several months ago, Yap got a cease-and-desist letter from Ikea that said her Web site infringed on the company’s trademark. They wanted her to transfer the rights to “Ikeahackers.net” to them or else face a lawsuit.

“I don’t have an issue with them protecting their trademark but I think they could have handled it better,” she said. “I am a person, not a corporation. A blogger who obviously is on their side.”

After some negotiation, Ikea said she could keep the site if she doesn’t make money from advertising on it. But Yap relies on income from ads to support herself and sustain the site.

“I agreed to that demand. Because the name IKEAhackers is very dear to me and I am soooo reluctant to give it up. I love this site’s community and what we have accomplished in the last 8 years. Secondly, I don’t have deep enough pockets to fight a mammoth company in court,” Yap wrote.

Yap will transfer her Web site to a new domain where she can host advertisements. Fans of IKEAhackers can join a mailing list to be notified of the new domain name once she sets it up.

In an email to The Washington Post, this is what IKEA had to say about the whole thing:

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. At the same time we have a great responsibility for our customers, they should always be able to trust the IKEA brand. High quality and good service are essential elements of this. Another important aspect is that the many people want to know what really is connected to IKEA – and what is not.

For that reason the IKEA name and brand must be used correctly. When other companies use the IKEA name for economic gain, it creates confusion and rights are lost.

Therefore we are happy for the agreement between Inter IKEA Systems and IKEA Hackers. IKEA Hackers may continue as a fan-based blog/webpage without commercial elements, just like it started some years ago.

Such trademark demands by companies are not that unusual and are often thwarted when a company gets portrayed by unsympathetic news outlets as a “bully,” which is what happened to Ikea. 

Cory Doctorow, a blogger and activist in favor of liberalizing copyright laws, called the trademark claim “bogus.” “There’s no trademark violation here — the use of Ikea’s name is purely factual. 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,” he wrote in a blog post.

Angus Kidman, who writes for the blog Lifehacker, noted that the brand damage done by this kind of Streisand effect – when an effort to hide something has the unintended consequence of publicizing it –is potentially greater than any risk of trademark dilution.

Ars Technica noted that the move by IKEA comes less than a month after Google was scolded by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for “trademark bullying” against a parody Web site.

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
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