The Great Internet Trademark Debate

The Great Internet Trademark Debate has been going on for some time, with little indication of an end in sight.

It's complicated by the observation that many people don't see what the big deal is until they have a trademark of their own, at which point they often become rabid about defending it.

I used to do some work for a couple of music companies, and the copyright issue was big then (everyone had pirated MP3's). I often saw musicians with huge collections of MP3's suddenly go onto a "hey! that's MY copyright" frenzy when someone actually uploaded a rip from their album. They were usually pleased at first (for about 15 minutes) and then realized that all the work they had put into the song was now available for free.

There were a few musicians who didn't mind, or who decided that they would upload songs for free, and then make money off concerts, or whatever, but most changed their tune once it actually affected them. From anarchist to capitalist in one rip and upload.

The person who coined the phrase "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" obviously didn't have a copyright or trademark on anything...

I'm seeing the same thing in trademarks. Trademarks are a very different area of law than copyright, so you can't apply the same rules, but since they are both about intellectual property, there are some similarities.

Everyone that matters (professional pirates, don't count, IMO) agrees that trademark is intended to protect the public from confusion. Fine. But it often goes further than that. Owners consider often trademark as protection of their business from copycats. Since this is not completely true, there is a lot of confusion about the results and expectations.

Worse, trademark is not a universal thing. If you have a copyright, then you are protected pretty much everywhere in the world (except a few places that are not commercially viable anyway) under the Berne and other conventions. There is no practical geographic restriction, which is good, because the internet has no practical geographic restriction either.

Trademark, on the other hand, is geographically restricted. A trademark can only be enforced in the jurisdiction that it's registered in, and anywhere else that has an agreement with them. Additionally, the geography can be VERY restrictive. Technically, you can have a trademark that is only valid for a few city blocks, under some circumstances. "Bob's Garage" could be trademarked hundreds of thousands of times around the world, and each trademark is exclusive in its area.

This is not compatible with the internet.

Until there is a central trademark system applicable to the internet, we will continue to see issues like this. They will get worse as the internet penetrates more of the world. If eBay does not have a trademark registered in Upper Volta, then they have no basis for any claims related to that country. They would only be effective if the local legal system accepted evidence of "world famous brand" or some such, and that's entirely up to that government.

In practice, since the major search engines are based in the US, right now your best bet is to register your trademark under US law. But that's not going to be a viable option for very long.

Trademark law as it is right now is not compatible with the operation of internet. I'm looking forward to how this is going to turn out. Should be interesting.

Personally, I think preventing bidding on search terms is going too far, but since a French ruling has made it clear that in that jurisdiction it's the law, Yahoo is probably going to follow it. Yahoo and MSN both have far more experience internationally than Google does.

Google tends to be much more US-centric in focus, and although it's working for them right now, I'm not sure that it will continue to do so in the future. At some point, non-US countries are going to get tired of having to deal with the various wierdness of US law.

I predict that if Google goes down, it won't be due to technology or money. It will be due to it's lack of cultural and international awareness and focus, and trademark law will be one of the flashpoints that starts it.

My opinion, of course,


Robots Blog

I'm a bit of a fan of the robots.txt file - and I've spent a lot of time messing around with the how's and why's of how it works. I've even put together a robots.txt generator and FAQ.

Brette Tabke (of WebmasterWorld, if you've been sleeping under a rock and didn't know already) has turned his robots.txt file into a blog. Not only is this irreverent, it's damn funny!

Brette has garnered some fame as of late because he's apparently declared war on rogue robots to his site. Where most SEO's and webmasters are desperately trying to get robots to visit, Brette is desparately trying to keep them away, especially the bandwidth sucking parasite ones that spammers create.

Strange how the rules change once you hit a certain level of success...


The Sandbox, Confidence, and SEO

The key to SEO (any type of SEO, not just sandbox avoidance) isn't links, or hilltops, or content or even trust. Trust is the closest - I just don't like the word "trust" used in conjunction with a search for a really bad site, for example.

No, the holy grail, in my opinion, is confidence.

The more a search engine can be confident that the result it supplies to you is what you are looking for, the more likely you are going to be supplied with that result - i.e. the higher the site will rank.

Things like links, and content, and authority and all that stuff are just methods of attempting to ascertain how confident a search engine can be in presenting the site.This may seem obvious or trite to someone not used to thinking things through very deeply, but put down the eggnog and indulge me for a moment...

Stop thinking about links and content. What else would inspire confidence in a website? What about the lack of duplicate data? What about a URL structure that lets the search engine know that it's definitely not indexing the same 15 pages over and over again?, what about a server NOT going down all the time? What about links outwards to sites that are known to be useful to searchers for the content they've just searched on? What if the site approaches the search term from a different angle than most of the other sites (ie it's a museum or directory rather than a commercial site, etc)?

What about how long people link to it? A site that people link to for 2 months and then stop is probably not a good site (and probably buying or trading for them, or doing some sort of serial linking campaign). A site that has static 4-year-old links from trusted authority sources is probably a good site.

All of these things can affect the confidence levels a site has as a result for a particular query, or for a position on a results page for a particular query.Of course, these are usually not yes/no answers - if you only rate a 46% confidence level for a keyword, that kind of sucks (I'm making these numbers up for illustration ONLY), but if the other choices are all 22% or lower, then you will be firmly placed in a top position, even though frankly it's not that great of a site. Just because a site is number one doesn't mean it's a good site, it's just considered the best of a bad lot.

I want you to look at something - find a site that is in a sandbox, and look at a keyword that it ranks for. Now look for the closest Supplementary Result. See a connection? Now think about what Supplementary Results are, and what that connection means. Look really, really close.

Why is my site labeled "Supplemental"?

Supplemental sites are part of Google's auxiliary index. We're able to place fewer restraints on sites that we crawl for this supplemental index than we do on sites that are crawled for our main index. For example, the number of parameters in a URL might exclude a site from being crawled for inclusion in our main index; however, it could still be crawled and added to our supplemental index.The index in which a site is included is completely automated; there's no way for you to select or change the index in which your site appears. Please be assured that the index in which a site is included does not affect its PageRank.

Sandboxed sites usually appear immediately above supplementary results. If there are no displayed supplementary results for a search (because there are so many other ones that the search engine can show instead), your site probably won't show up.The Supplementary Results are a separate database of "last gasp, only show if nothing else works" results. They have a confidence score (else they would not show up at all), but it's extremely low. These include pages that either go down a lot, or that have been recently not found but used to be good, etc. In short, they are on topic, but there is almost no confidence in them.

I've noticed that "sandboxed" sites typically are sites whose confidence score is very low, but better than the ones in the supplementary results database (I suspect that they are the lowest or bottom results in the normal database). That's a fairly accurate method to tell if something's been sandboxed. Find it's relation to the Supplementary Results for that search term. It's not the only method, but it's quick and and easy.

The sandbox has nothing to do with trust or age, or ccTLD - it's all about confidence, IMO. If you want to declare all sites that have very low confidence ratings as "sandboxed", then fine. For me, they are just sites that the search engine isn't confident about (yet).

It's perfectly possible (even common) for a site to be highly relevant, but not be assigned a high confidence level due to other factors.

IMO, the sandbox effect is related mostly to the length of time a domain has had particular links to it for. Which is actually very different from site age itself. An old site with no links to it will be "sandboxed" based on the first day new links are discovered. Likewise, an established site that resets it's historical data through a redirect, merge, or change in ownership/direction will often suffer the same effect.

Since the links age is only one criteria, a site that can show itself to be trustworthy because of other factors (ie really, really good links, etc) would override the negative aspect of the young links.It appears you need links for about 6 months before Google begins to be confident that they are permanent links and gives you full credit for them. In short, you need at least 6 months of historical data. Since it usually takes 1-3 months for a new site to be fully spidered, you will note that the most common "sandbox" times are 6 + (1-3), or 7-9 months. It could be as soon as 6 months and one day, or as late as 12 months, but I most often see 7-9 as the common range for a standard (non-aggressive but competent) sites.

A brand new site launched by a very trustworthy company, or a site that has garnered lots of natural links, may easily be deemed as a site a search engine can present as a result with confidence, regardless of the youth of it's links. Young links are only one aspect of the whole thing, that's why (IMO) there are so many exceptions to the so-called "sandbox".

You can also avoid the effect if the site is assigned some of the historical data of another via a merge of some sort.

My suggestion for SEO in 2006 - make your site one that a search engine could show with complete confidence to a searcher for your term. Make sure its technology is sound, it's links trustworthy and it's content useful. If that sounds like what the search engines have been preaching all along, it's because it is - they are just finding different ways of measuring it.

Of course, I'm sure some people's response to all this will be along the lines of the old joke: "The secret to success is sincerity - once you can fake that, you've got it made!" I beg to differ, of course - tricking people (and search engines) is a bad habit, and almost always backfires.

My opinion,


Politically Correct Holiday Legal Document

From McAnerin Networks Legal Dept ("the wishor") to you ("hereinafter called the wishee") please accept without obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, politically correct, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all... and a financially successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2006, but with due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures or sects, and having regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform or dietary preference of the wishee.

By accepting this greeting you are bound by these terms that:

  • This greeting is subject to further clarification or withdrawal
  • This greeting is freely transferable provided that no alteration shall be made to the original greeting and that the proprietary rights of the wishor are acknowledged.
  • This greeting implies no promise by the wishor to actually implement any of the wishes.
  • This greeting may not be enforceable in certain jurisdictions and/or the restrictions herein may not be binding upon certain wishees in certain jurisdictions and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wishor.
  • This greeting is warranted to perform as reasonably may be expected within the usual application of good tidings, for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first.
  • The wishor warrants this greeting only for the limited replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wishor
  • Any references in this greeting to "the Lord", "Father Christmas", "Santa Claus", or any other festive figures, whether actual or fictitious, dead or alive, shall not imply any endorsement by or from them in respect of this greeting, and all proprietary rights in any referenced third party names and images are hereby acknowledged.

THIS AGREEMENT dated for reference December 25, 2005,

BETWEEN: Transmitter [hereinafter referred to as "the Wishors"]
AND: Recipient [hereinafter referred to as "the Wishees"]



A. The Wishors have offered to the Wishees an emotionally positive celebration of the Winter Solstice on terms and conditions agreeable to the Wishees, with the proviso that such conditions do not impinge upon the reasonable enjoyment of said Solstice by other individuals within the reasonable contemplation of the Wishees, their heirs, assigns successors and other persons who may gain rights to said offer, whether by contract, tort or other operation of law; AND

B. The Wishors include in said offer the right to reasonable use and enjoyment of the period of time commencing (and including) January 1, 2006 and including the following 365.25 days to end no sooner than 12:00 am on January 1, 2007, having due regard to the rights and obligations of others to reasonable use and enjoyment of said period of time; AND

C. The Wishors have granted said offer on terms and conditions outlined in the Preamble to this Agreement, to wit:

(i) the offer is revocable and subject to further clarification at the option of the Wishors;

(ii) the offer is freely transferrable, PROVIDED THAT said offer shall remain unaltered in any transaction hereinafter entered into by, on behalf of, or for the benefit of the Wishees;

(iii) the Wishors are not, by sole reason of this offer, bound, obligated or otherwise liable for the implementation, whether by means direct or indirect, to the specific performance of any said covenants negotiated or directly implied by reason of the offers herein made;

(iv) that the laws of the jurisdiction in which the Wishees customarily reside may preclude the operation of certain terms or covenants expressed or otherwise incidental to the execution, negotiation or implementation of this Agreement;

(v) that this offer may be superceded by the mere affluxion of time (vis a vis the term of operation as set out in paragraph B above) or by earlier supercession by operatio of any subsequent offer made unilaterally by the Wishors (this term is for the benefit of the Wishors, and may not be used in any subsequent action by the Wishees as estoppel against any claim of further good tidings); and

(vi) that any references to Supreme Beings or other characters, fictitious or real, living or dead or otherwise the subject of copyright, trademark (registered or otherwise) or other intellectual proprietary rights, shall not, for the purposes of this Agreement, be deemed as an endorsement or acquiescence to any covenants herein or hereinafter entered into by either the Wishors, the Wishees or any of them, and that no infringement of said intellectual property rights is intended or should be inferred.


1. The Wishees accept the offer on terms and conditions stated in the Preamble to this Agreement, PROVIDED THAT such terms and conditions do not interfere with the lawful rights and interests of the Wishors;

2. The Wishees provide, as consideration for the offer as accepted, an offer to the Wishors upon the same terms and conditions as stated in the Preamble to this Agreement, and subject to the same rights, obligations, covenants and provisos as stipulated by the Wishors hereinbefore mentioned; and

3. The Wishees extend said offer to other persons not subject to privity of this contract, but who, as witnesses herein, agree to be bound by the same terms and conditions stipulated by the Wishors to the Wishees, and FURTHER PROVIDED THAT should any Third Parties included by operation of this paragraphfail to comply with said terms and conditions, herein incorporated by reference, that all offers made by said Wishees shall be voidable at the option of the Wishees, which voidability shall be subject only to the sole and unfettered discretion of the Wishees, and shall not be the subject of a defense by way of acquiescence, equitable estoppel or breach of fiduciary obligation.

4. All parties to and beneficiaries of this Agreement herein acknowledge that they have read and understood this Agreement in its entirety, and that they partake of and reap benefits of this Agreement freely and voluntarily, and hereby release and relinquish any right they may have as against the Wishors, the Wishees, or their respective heirs, assigns, successors and representatives, any right, whether in law or in equity, to damages or other equitable remedies arising out of an alleged fraud, misrepresentation, whether fraudulent or negligent, undue influence, coercion or duress or any other action in tort or contract which may arise directly or indirectly out of any such allegations.

5. Any provisions herein contained which are found void, voidable, illegal or unenforceable are severable from the remainder of this Agreement, and all other provisions not so found by a court of law or equity shall remain in full force and effect as a separate Agreement.

6. This Agreement constitutes the whole Agreement between and among the Wishors, the Wishees and any Third Parties incorporated by operation of this Agreement, and no modifications hereto shall be enforceable as against any such person unless said modification is shown to have existed prior to the assertion of such modification in a form written and agreed to in a manner similar to this Agreement by the parties against whom the modification is sought to be so enforced.

7. When in doubt, the butler did it.

{signed} This day,


Some Sandbox Clarifications

Apparently either more people read my blog than I thought, or there is a LOT of interest in the sandbox - (I suspect the latter).

There have been several people attempting to figure out how I was able to beat the sandbox, and since it's not really fair to announce an experiment and then say that the result is a secret, I'll open up a little here.

First, anyone who knows me knows I'm very free with information as a matter of course, but in this case I have been convinced by several people I trust that there is a significant commercial advantage to shutting my mouth (sorry - a guys gotta eat!). But I'll clarify some misconceptions and provide some hints, OK?

First, I'm currently redesigning my website for a reason completely unrelated to this experiment. I'm going to China this spring, and my Canadian Government clients are starting to want things in French, so I'm making the site international in flavor and adding several languages. Part of this process has resulted in my re-purposing the .us domain for a US specific area of my site. Therefore, following it now won't get you very far, directly. There will be some very interesting things indirectly, though. More on that later.

Here are the facts:

1. I have not tested this technique with a .com yet, so if there is a special rule for non-ccTLD's I have not tested it yet. I don't think so (it's more likely a competition issue) but I'm not sure. It's being tested right now, using completely different sites and domains.

2. There were no 302 redirects involved at all. Nor was there any scripting.

3. The technique requires one aged domain and one new one, but only one website is involved.

4. There are no methods used that are grey, much less black. No cloaks, IP detection, hidden redirects, etc. (I don't do that sort of thing).

5. I'm aware of 2 other methods that can deal with the sandbox - one using 302's invented by Scottie Claiborne and one involving a black hat technique. I'm not sure if anyone is using that one, but I'm even less likely to announce how to do it, as you can imagine! This is not an impossible problem, you just have to think things through. I have one more potential method that I haven't even tried yet. That's 4 methods that I know of already. I'm sure they are not the only ones.

6. One of the key issues to remember is that this is not some sort of evil plot to screw over new webmasters. It's a side effect of a relevancy algo. Remembering this helps you focus on where to look (and where not to!)

7. There is no magic bullet - no matter what method you use, there is work and planning involved. Sorry.

8. Hint 1: I discovered this while figuring out how to make websites localized.

9. Hint 2: although the sandbox affects entire domains, Google lists individual web pages. This discrepancy in behavior can be used to your advantage.

10. Hint 3: I had the original idea while writing my Redirects for SEO's series of articles.

That's all I can tell you. You now have 2 things in your favor: 1) you know it's possible (I didn't) and 2) you have the information above, which is a far smaller list of variables than I had to work with.

I'm interested in seeing who can figure this out, based on the above. Good Luck!