Ten years ago I created freewavesamples.com because there was a shortage of free high-quality samples online. Specifically, the type of samples that would be useful for making music with samplers and trackers. I recorded sounds from my large collection of synthesizers (and some other instruments), a mix of preset patches and custom patches that I’ve created.
Now, after a decade of giving away samples without any issues, the site is under threat from Roland. A trademark threat of all things.
This is an unsolicited email I received:
— BEGIN MESSAGE —
To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing on behalf of the IP Department for Roland Corporation and its division regarding your infringement of Roland intellectual property rights. As I am sure you know, Roland Corporation is a leading manufacturer and distributor of electronic musical instruments, including keyboards and synthesizers, guitar products, electronic percussion, digital recording equipment, amplifiers, audio processors, and multimedia products. With more than 40 years of musical instrument development, Roland sets the standard in music technology for the world to follow. For more information, visit http://www.Roland.com/global/.
In connection to Roland Corporation’s proprietary rights over its famous trademark we are notifying you of the following:
Roland Corporation has recently learned that the trademark ROLAND appears as a metatag, keyword, visible or hidden text on the web site(s) located at the below listed URL(s) without having obtained prior written authorization from Roland Corporation. This practice infringes upon the exclusive intellectual property rights of Roland Corporation.
As a trademark owner, Roland Corporation is obligated to enforce its rights by taking action to ensure that others do not use its trademarks without permission. Unauthorized use of the trademark(s) could create a likelihood of confusion with Roland Corporation’s trademark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of your web site(s), online location(s), products or services.
In light of the above, we request that you respond to this e-mail within ten (10) days, informing us whether you have obtained rights from Roland Corporation to use the trademark(s). If so, please provide us with details as to who granted you such rights and when. If not, please remove all metatags, keywords, visible or hidden texts including trademark(s) presently appearing on the above-cited web site(s) and any other web site(s), or draw this issue to the attention of the appropriate person(s).
Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter.
— END MESSAGE —
This looks like the type of message that is generated by an automated IP enforcement bot — the kind of thing that crawls the web and automatically bothers people when it sees certain keywords. I sincerely doubt that a Human was involved in sending it at all.
Here’s why their claims are not valid:
1. There is no possibility of brand confusion because the mentions of Roland on the site are NOT a competing product. It’s THEM that I’m talking about when I use the word Roland. These are samples recorded from my Roland synthesizers and I have every right to say where they came from. That is Fair Use.
2. They are using an overly broad interpretation of trademark.
3. There are no products for sale on the site.
4. You don’t get to decide what keywords someone uses in their meta tags. That’s not covered by trademark, and it’s pointless to even care since search engines don’t even use keyword meta tags anymore.
5. If this was a problem, Roland should have objected long ago. As this capture from The Wayback Machine on May 5, 2007 shows, I’ve been offering Roland samples for more than ten years (including the JD-990 sample that is in their list of URLs). It has been a popular site for a long time, and I believe it was in 2008 that it first cracked the Alexa Top Million (it’s been the 200-250k range in recent months).
In any case, I replied to their email explaining that their claims were not valid in this case. Heard nothing back. Received the same email again a week later. Replied with the same answer. Heard nothing back.
A week or so later, my ISP notified me that it received the same email and said that I needed to remove the content or my server would be “limited”. I contested it and I’m still waiting to hear back from their “trust and safety” department. One thing I will definitely give Linode — their customer service is quite good, and they look into things rather than making unilateral decisions. I experienced this firsthand a few years back when a malware scanner came up with some false positives for some apps I had posted on zetacentauri.com.
One of six things will probably happen here:
1. A real Human at Roland will look at this and realize it’s silly and drop it.
2. I’ll end up removing the Roland content from the site under duress, even though they have no right to force me to not mention them. And, of course, I’ll replace it with a very unflattering note explaining why it was removed.
3. I’ll change ISPs. This is unlikely because the same thing will probably just happen again.
4. I’ll shut down the site. This isn’t too likely, but it is possible. It’s does require time and energy to maintain, and even though it gets a lot of traffic, the Google ads on the site earn only slightly more than the hosting costs. Enough to buy an inexpensive synth once a year (and then record more samples from it).
5. I’ll fight it in court and win. This isn’t too likely because it’s not worth the time, money, and energy. If I were earning a living from the site, that might be a different story (this is just a hobby, not a company). But, I also hate bullying, so it might be worth the fight, especially since trademark bullies are some of the worst kind of bullies.
I’ve spent a LOT of money on Roland audio equipment over the last 20 years (probably $20k total). Result #1 is the only thing that will keep me buying and using Roland gear.
If you’d like to keep freewavesamples.com online, please contact Roland and let them know they should leave me alone.
And for the love of all that is good, please don’t use (or let your company use) shoddy shotgun-blast-approach automated IP protection bots. A number of companies sell them, and none of them are very good. Down with Barratry bots.
There is an Update to this situation.