Around the World in 80 Jobs: did a global corporation steal one little man’s Intellectual Property?
The recent social media dispute between travel blogger, Tuner Barr, and Swiss based global recruitment giant, Adecco Group has highlighted some important Intellectual Property (IP) issues that can arise in the social media sphere.
Barr accused Adecco of ripping off his IP in its campaign entitled “Around the world in 80 Jobs”. Barr’s main gripe is that he had previously created a website called Around the World in 80 Jobs. Importantly Barr had never registered the name “Around the World in 80 Jobs” as a trade mark in Australia or internationally.
Adecco launched a global contest, using the name “Around the World in 80 Jobs”. Adecco offered 8 trips to 10 winners to gain work experience in a variety of jobs in various countries between July 1 and August 31, 2013. The winners will be offered a work experience opportunity in different states or countries, including travel and accommodation. Adecco also applied to register the phrase “Around the World in 80 Jobs” as a trade mark, which would give Adecco exclusive rights to use that mark and therefore circumvent Barr’s claim to the name.
The controversy has taken social media by storm with an outpouring of support for Barr. Barr was able to use social media as the primary medium to drum up support for his cause, encouraging his supporters to use the twitter hashtags #waytowork #80jobs and #makeitright. Barr’s public support has also been voiced on Adecco’s public Facebook page. The result of this debacle is that Adecco has been painted as the big, bad, heartless corporation trying to squash one little man’s ideas and IP rights. This is clearly not an ideal PR situation for Adecco to have its brand tied up in.
Barr has commented "I was both astonished and demoralized to find that my entire brand, image and web personality was swiped for use in a marketing campaign by some massive multi-billion dollar a year company, without ever being asked for permission or acknowledged."
Adecco posted a response to the public outcry in a Facebook apology, describing the details of the campaign as a “mistake”. Following further social media backlash to this apology, Adecco's 80 Jobs Around the World Contest has been renamed The Job Experience Contest. The general consensus amongst Facebook commenters and Tweeters is that “sorry” doesn’t mean anything without meaningful action, such as cancelling the trade mark application and taking down the campaign.
This very public dispute demonstrates some issues for both parties that you should bear in mind when engaging in social media, such as:
1. Registering a domain name does not give you rights to that name as a trade mark. If you want trade mark protection that can be easily enforced, get it registered. In Australia if you are the registered owner of a trade mark you can take steps to prevent another party from registering that mark as a domain name. Barr could have taken some easy preliminary steps to protect his IP rights in the brand “Around the World in 80 Jobs” by registering the name as a trade mark in the key jurisdictions. This precautionary step would have prevented Adecco, or any other party for that matter, for applying to register the name as a trade mark and potentially invalidate Barr’s domain name registration.
2. Everything that happens in the social media sphere is open to public scrutiny. In this instance Adecco’s attempt to register the name Around the World in 80 Jobs as a trade mark was viewed as an underhanded attempt to prevent Barr from carrying on his social media blog. Further to this, Adecco’s apology was viewed as an insincere and half-hearted attempt to salvage the broader Adecco brand. Serious damage was caused to Adecco’s reputation as a result of the public’s Twitter and Facebook uproar. Engaging in social media can work wonders for your brand and image, particularly if you are trying to appeal to a younger demographic. However, you must be conscious that your conduct will be criticised very publicly and very quickly.