... and I couldn't be happier about it. For those who don't know, MonaVie is a juice, that retails for $1.70 an ounce (yes ounce). Being the consumer advocate that I am, I wrote that I think MonaVie is a scam since it's around $1500-$2000 a year per person and has no proven health benefits. (In fact, only people associated with MonaVie even allege that it's healthy and never address that for less money you could buy healthier foods.) My critical article has been pretty popular, somehow gathering a few devoted followers who have added new research on a daily or weekly basis. That has helped it rank on the first page of Google for the company's own term, "MonaVie". It also has generated over 3200 comments to date.
With that in mind, MonaVie sent me a cease and desist on the article. It's not really a surprise to me, as I'm sure have this criticism in such prime real estate as Google is not good for their business. In fact, I'm proud that my criticism is apparently costing them enough sales where they feel they need to do something (however far-fetched) to shut me up.
Here's the e-mail that they sent to the company that does the private registration on my domain:
Subject: Trademark Infringement
Dear Domains by Proxy, Inc.:
MonaVie LLC (MonaVie) has been informed of the website(s) http://www.lazymanandmoney.com/monavie-scam-was-my-wife-recruited-sell-snake-oil/ registered through Go Daddy Domains. As the registrant, MonaVie asks that you remove all references to MonaVie and its products.
As a network marketing company MonaVie does not permit its name to be used in any URL or email address and the company must take necessary action to protect its intellectual property. It is not permitted for a third party vendor to use the MonaVie trade name in any form.
The MonaVie name and symbol are registered trademarks. (U.S. Reg. Nos. 3111333, 3111332, 78526279). MonaVie's federal registration of these trademarks provides MonaVie with the right to restrict the use of the trademark, or a confusingly similar trademark, in any way that misrepresents the origin of MonaVie's products or dilutes the MonaVie brand and goodwill associated therewith.
State and federal law supports our position that the use of MonaVie's trademarks and proprietary copyrighted material may cause confusion among customers. This confusion may cause substantial harm to the trademark by facilitating the loss of its effectiveness in establishing a distinct association between it, MonaVie's products & services, and MonaVie's goodwill. Your unauthorized use of MonaVie's federally registered trademarks amounts to an infringement of MonaVie's trademark rights.
MonaVie wishes to settle this situation amicably and therefore, requests that you immediately cease the use of our trade name MonaVie. Additionally, we request that you respond to this email within seven (7) days to confirm this action via email to: [Editor's note: e-mail address erased].
Failure to comply with our requests may result in legal recourse to protect our vested interests in the aforementioned trademarks and trade names. Should you have any questions, please contact me at the following number [Editor's Note: Phone number removed].
Distributor Compliance Specialist
I suppose MonaVie doesn't believe in the freedom of speech when it comes to being a critic. Would Quentin Tarantino try to silence movie critics if they said that they didn't like Inglorious Bastards? I don't think so. There seem to hundreds of personal finance blogs that don't like Rich Dad, Poor Dad, but that doesn't get Robert Kiyosaki on a litigious rampage. Even as a critic, I have been a lot more reserved than Dr. Dean Edell was on his syndicated radio show yesterday. My favorite quotes of his were "This is worthless. They are breaking the law.", and "Have your friend call me - . have her tell me what things that [MonaVie] cures. I'll grind her up in very little pieces - ."
If I were spreading untruths, I could see the legal action. Unfortunately MonaVie doesn't mention any of that, so I presume that's not the case.
The only thing that I see that potentially has any merit is the URL claim. I do indeed use MonaVie in the URL. However, I believe that only extends to domain names. It has not prevented Wikipedia from using it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MonaVie) or from the NY Times from using Apple's trademarked iPhone product in today's article: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/08/28/technology/AP-AS-China-iPhone.html. There are only two differences between these and my use of MonaVie. 1) I was critical of MonaVie. 2) I'm a lowly Sole proprietorship (without a legal team), so they probably feel they can scare me easier.
Having read the above e-mail that Heather sent a few more times, I'm taking a slightly different view than when I started writing this post. It is entirely possible that they think I'm a MonaVie distributor. That would explain why they had a "Distributor Compliance Specialist" send the mail rather than someone in their legal team. If I were a distributor, I'd be breaking my MonaVie contract by having an unauthorized website (yes, MonaVie makes you give up the freedom of press when you sign up if you can imagine that). I really fail to see how they can say I'm a MonaVie distributor when I call their product a scam and compare it to snake oil. Wouldn't that make me the worst salesman in the world? What sense does that make? And why wouldn't they just offer to drop me from their distributor program? Perhaps it's because they don't know that I'm not in their distributor program - well that's an issue they created for themselves, when they made up their distributor rules, it is not for a trademark battle for the courts to decide.
I had a week where you might say that things haven't bounced my direction. Just last night my wife suggested that this weekend, I should go get a massage - wash the negativity away and start the next week fresh. (Massages cost money, I suggested we do a picnic instead.) Adding this to the long list of MonaVie criticisms has done more than a massage or picnic ever could. Plus, it's good motivation for me to continue my MonaVie Scam website.
Update: It turns out that comment #46 below is from a MonaVie internal IP address. Yep, a MonaVie employee is calling me an "Annoying Douche".
Update 2: Special thanks to Tight Fisted Miser who pointed out that I'm likely protected by the Federal Trademark Dilution Revision Act Of 2006. It specifically grants fair use for "identifying and parodying, criticizing, or commenting upon the famous mark owner or the goods or services of the famous mark owner" [Section 42, (3) (A) (ii)] and "forms of news reporting and news commentary." [Section 42, (3) (B)]. I think it's safe to say that my use was clearly identifying and criticizing the famous trademark owner (and it's goods) as well as news commentary.
Update 3: I want to thank a couple of people for spreading the word of this story:
- The Consumerist's article: MonaVie Hits Blogger Over 'Trademarks' In Metadata
- J.D. of Get Rich Slowly reTweeted it across his thousands of followers.
- AOL's Wallet Pop sided with me that MonaVie is only after me because I was critical of the product.
- Fraud Files took it all a step further and found out that MonaVie is editing their own Wikipedia page to remove their own Income Disclosure Statement, which makes it look like a poor business opportunity.
Please leave any comments on my previous MonaVie post: MonaVie Scam?
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