French T-Shirt Maker Defends Stealing Anonymous' Identity
The infamous 'troll face' meme.
CREDIT: Public domain
The French T-shirt maker who registered the Anonymous logo and slogan as his own trademarks says he did so for the good of the hacktivist movement — and that despite being misunderstood, he's not backing down.
"The idea that I would get rich by blocking a copyright (of a symbol of which I am not the author) of people who identify with certain principles that I fully understand due to my profession, and which I myself believe, never came to my mind," Apollinaire Auffret wrote on one of his websites today (Aug. 2).
"To be clear, there is absolutely no question of [my] creating an Anonymous 'brand,'" Auffret said. "It is very important that everyone recognizes (myself included) that Anonymous logos and creeds do not only not belong to me, but do not belong to anyone."
Kicking over a hornet's nest
In February, Auffret filed papers with the French intellectual-property government agency INPI to trademark the Anonymous hacker movement's headless-businessman logo and "We Are Legion" slogan. (The Guy Fawkes or "V for Vendetta" mask that Anonymous protesters wear is already trademarked by Warner Bros.)
The trademarks appear to have been approved in March, according to publicly viewable documents on the INPI site. (Go to this site and search for "Anonymous" under "Nom de la marque.")
Today, Auffret said on his website that he registered the trademarks only so that he — and others — could freely use them without risk of copyright infringement.
"The goodwill which I thought I had gained regarding my action did not prompt me to justify it, which I suppose explains the anger and indignation of some among you today."
An email seeking comment from Auffret was not returned.
Anonymous found out about the trademark applications Tuesday (July 31), and quickly promised vengeance on Auffret's company Early Flicker.
"Their arrogance and ignorance of what they have done will not go unpunished," said an online video, somewhat clumsily translated from French. "Anonymous will take down any business they have going on the Internet and the 99 percent will not stop until the registration has been revoked and a public apology has been made."
I'm doing this for you
Auffret runs an eBay store, a Web design-and-advertising agency and a website selling T-shirts and accessories. All the sites were up and running yesterday (Aug. 1), but by this morning, the eBay store had been emptied of items.
The T-shirt and accessories site, pickapop.fr, was selling Anonymous-themed T-shirts and bags, as well as items bearing other well-known online images, such as the famous "troll face." An Anonymous-slogan shirt cost about $23.
This morning, it had been replaced by Auffret's rambling statement, in white text on a black background.
He said that since his filing of the trademark applications, he had never acted to prevent anyone else from selling Anonymous-themed items.
In fact, Auffret said, he's doing all this as a public service.
"This [trademark] registration could, however, have been made by someone more ill-intentioned [than I], who could have prohibited its reproduction and distribution, something that we all agree we would oppose," he wrote. "This danger still exists in other countries."
Anonymous has already "doxed" Auffret, or posted personal information about him online, although his business and home address are clearly indicated on the trademark applications.
"Our logo and our slogan have been swiped by an unscrupulous marketing company," states a French-language Anonymous video posted yesterday. "Anonymous, the society of freedom of expression, demands that Mr. Auffret withdraw his trademarks or face the unleashing of our anger."
… whether you like it or not
Will Auffret actually give up the trademark filings? He didn't say. Instead, he asked the Anonymous movement to trust him with holding onto the logo and slogan.
"I can publicly vouch for their free and legal use in France by all who acknowledge the ideals of Anonymous, and this will be for as long as I will be permitted to do so by supporters of the movement," he wrote.
It's not really clear whether Auffret legally has any right to trademark the Anonymous logo and slogan. In the United States, they appear to be in either the public domain or under a Creative Commons license, which is less restrictive than full trademark or copyright. Several American online retailers openly sell T-shirts bearing the logo or slogan.
Forbes tech reporter Parmy Olson, author of a recent book about Anonymous, spoke to a French official who said it's not the trademark registry's job to check whether something falls under a Creative Commons license or is in the public domain.
"The INPI competence is limited to the realm of trademark law," Olson quoted INPI spokeswoman Magali Lancien as saying. "Therefore, INPI cannot assess the validity of a trademark against other signs (e.g., logos) which are not governed by trademark law."
"The fact that the above-mentioned trademarks were registered by INPI does not necessarily mean that they are valid (as they might be in conflict with prior rights)," Lancien said. "This is a matter for courts of law to resolve."
One Anonymous-themed blogger seemed to think that Auffret crossed the line by trying to register the logo and slogan as his own.
"I spoke to some members of Anonymous on the matter and they said that they would have no problem if Early Flicker was just selling Anonymous t-shirts," he wrote.
Anonymous needs a hero, and it might as well be me
In all the murky legal gloom, Auffret would like to hold himself up as a shining beacon of free speech.
"I am not presenting myself as a staunch defender of the ideals of Anonymous, but as someone (like many others) who would like to freely help those who acknowledge supporting and promoting their ideas, in the same way, in the end, as one who would choose a T-shirt bearing the image of a historical figure," he wrote. "This entirely corresponds with to the original mandate of my website and is not opposed in way — quite to the contrary — to the Anonymous movement."
Given the nasty things said about him over the past couple of days, he said he'd rather go out of business than be suspected of dishonesty.
"It is certainly not enjoyable to see my website and my mailboxes attacked," Auffret wrote. "But please believe that, given the relative unimportance of a company such as mine, the unscrupulous goals ascribed to me are much more painful than the failure of my business."
Just to remind you that Early Flicker is indeed a business, Auffret appended one final line to his statement: "Site operations will resume as soon as this dispute is resolved."