Toys-R-Us Giraffe Threatens to Sue Web Page

(Big Company Goes Berserk Over Net)

Really Short Version

Up to the Minute Info

``Well, it depends on what your definition of "up to the minute" is...''

Alternatives To the Pencil-Necked Geek's Stores

Join the Boycott

Above & Beyond the Call (Other Non-TRU-Sanctioned -R-Us Sites)

Another Humor-Challenged MegaCorporation

Other Corporate Stupidity on the Net

Note - some of these may be legit, but most are as absurd as TRU's assault on us! Go to What's in a Name? for the overview. In April of this 1995, the huge toy store chain, Toys "R" Us, began a rather bizarre campaign against a long-time net.myth - Roadkills-R-Us. The giant giraffe saw the tiny little critter in the road, and decided to squash it flat.

Absurd? Yes, but true! We have the online documentation to prove it! We have both the document text and images of the actual documents. I thought it was a joke myself, at first, and I held the letterhead in my suddenly cold hands.

You can view the correspondance in its entirety, or peruse the synopsis below. You can also enter the contest to come up with a new name (for fun), or send your views to Roadkills-R-Us and to the Mad Giraffe (we will forward them). Cartoons, media support, etc are also solicited.

Here are some of the overwhelming number of supporting responses.

You can also see, for the first time, see the truth about Geoffrey, here revealed as the giraffe-imitating, space alien, terra-fauna-devouring monster that he is, caught in an act of destruction so violent and terrible we cannot show it, and shortly before he swallowed the photographer whole! (75K GIF - not for the weak of stomach!) (For humor-impaired TRU lawyers, this is satire.)

The Sordid Story in a Nutshell

Among other things, TRU claimed "Your use of this term is likely to cause confusion with respect to our marks..." Oh, yes. I'm quite certain that everyone who sees this immediately thinks the owners of TRU have flipped their lids and begun selling roadkill.

Right.

The same letter later said, "...You can therefore imagine what problems we would encounter if we were to allow an individual or entity to run a business utilizing the name ROADKILLS-R-US over which we would have no control as to its quality."

I replied that there is no company, that there are no products and services, that RRU exists solely in my mind and in cyberspace, that it is not a business, or even an entity. As you can see, this went right over their heads.

I further pointed out that, "...I seriously doubt that anyone with the intellectual capacity necessary to negotiate traffic to one of your stores could confuse Roadkills-R-Us with anything even vaguely related to Geoffrey's domain."

I also forwarded printouts of some of the actual RRU web pages, to show the absurdity of the situation.

We spoke briefly on the phone. Nothing much came of this conversation, except that I realized Ms. Fowler was only doing her job.

I soon received an extremely terse letter responding to nothing, and demanding details of my intentions.

After some serious thought, prayer, and bouncing off the walls, I saw a win-win situation. I explained briefly about the Internet and Web, offered to put disclaimers on all RRU pages, and offered to help them develop a net presence, noting, "...I believe that linking up with the creator of Roadkills-R-Us would be excellent, free publicity you would not otherwise have."

This resulted in another phone call, in which Ms. Fowler said she would look into the possibilities. She informed me at this time that the company's answer was likely to be "no", but she would check. In the meantime, I had added disclaimers to the RRU pages.

Over 2 months later, I received notice that I had 3 months to change my "company name", or "we will turn this matter over to our litigation counsel..."

This letter went on to say, "We will expect all use of ROADKILLS R US on or in signs, stationery, business cards, checks, advertising, telephone and trade directories to cease within three months. Additionally, please copy us on the amendment to your articles of incorporation or fictitious name certificate, whichever is applicable, as well as your letter to the phone company indicating your change of name."

This was the funniest letter to date, as TRU has been informed that there is no business, no corporation, no checks, etc.

But they followed up with an even better one. I held off on telling the world and running this contest because a certain New York attorney heard about the whole mess and offered to "bust their chops" because RRU is obviously satire, which the courts have (over and over) allowed as not being infringement. He backed out of the offer, though (I guess they got to him! 8^), and the same day he did that, I got another letter from TRU, reminding me to change the signs outside my building, use up my stationary, tell the phone company of the change, and so forth. What a hoot!!!

Interestingly, during the 2 months of quiet, they put themselves on the web. I have to wonder if they weren't stalling me until they figured out whether they could do it without me, decided they could, did it (poorly, at least at first, but they did it), after which they decided it was time for RRU to die.

My response? Well, I'm treating this with all the respect it's due. I'm running a contest and collecting your responses! (I also sent them a letter playing by lawyer rules, demanding responses to everything they've ignored from me so far, and pointing out how lost in space they seem to be.)

Now they've tried to get an upstream ISP to cut us off. Bad timing. Wrong ISP. Wouldn't have worked, anyway. See below.

In Summary

Toys-R-Us has chosen to ignore several legal facts:

In short, I can reach no possible conclusion other than thay they are being bullies - squashing someone just because they can - their legal budget, as measured in dollar bill volume, is probably bigger than my house, and they know it.

RRU has been on the Internet in some form for over 7 years. If anything, Toys-R-Us[TM] is the interloper here!

[The attorney contacting me, Ms. Fowler, has been very polite throughout this, and I suspect she is merely doing her job, which is handed to her by someone else. Of course, that's just a guess. She's suddenly got so many meetings to attend she can't return my calls, although she has time to put together FAXes to ISPs! -Miles]

Alternatives To the Pencil-Necked Geek's Stores

We have done all our childrens' shopping since then (including several birthdays and Christmases) without setting foot in a Toys-R-Us[TM]. We got pretty much everything we wanted, and saved money to boot. We've shopped instead at a Wal-Mart SuperCenter, Target, local bookstores, a discount stereo store, music stores, and from pepole on the Net. Yahoo has a list of online toy stores.

Late-Breaking News

Jan 4, 1999
(Note Y2K compliant dates throughout! 8^)

I just found out that we were written up two years ago in The Internet Legal Practice Newsletter...

Nov 1998
I know, nothing has changed here. That's because the Geiant Georaffe apparently figured out they were fighting a losing battle with me. Yet they still haven't withdrawn their threats or apologized. What should I do?

Meanwhile, I still get email about it, running several hundred to one against TRU.

Nov 1996
I'm way behind in updating the letters, etc. Still no news. Maybe they think it was a bad dream? Time to catch up on posting the email and fax it all to them...

But the incredible Torts-R-Us page has shown up in support of RRU - don't miss this! (And check out the other -R-Us sites as ell.)

30 Dec 1995
Nothing. Nada. Zip. Don't know if they're holed up with their heads in the sand, wishing this would all go away, or if they've hired Boris and Natasha to help cook up some nefarious plot.
13 Dec 1995
After the ISP incident below, I notified the media, and the rest (various Internet news agencies, Austin-American Statesman, KLBJ, WNBC-TV, Denison Herald, Houston Chronicle, CNN Headline News) is history. It was also at this point I officially called for a boycott.
7 Dec 1995
I am not changing the name. If Toys-R-Trademarked[us] wants to fight, so be it. The contest will continue, but with emphasis on creative letters, cartoons, and the like.
5 Dec 1995
TRU has now sent a FAX to Zilker Internet Park, our former provider, telling them what an unreasonable guy I am, and trying to get Zilker to turn off all my web access. Not just RRU, but anything of mine. Furthermore, they hinted that Zilker should treat this as confidential information. In other words, they have requested that Zilker turn off my Internet access without explaining why. Nevermind that Zilker hasn't served those pages for months, or that they are no longer the ISP for the site that houses RRU, or that this would be a breach of contract. The big point is that they are extending their bullying tactics across the Internet.

I suggest that all ISP providers should be considering possible impact to them once precedent is set, and consider contacting Toys-R-Us and letting them know what they think. As usual, we'd like to be Cc'd, or if you simply send it to us, we'll pass it on.

29 Nov 1995
The deadline for their response to my last letter came and went. Further communications of the previous sort will now be considered harassment, and I contact one of the lawyers who has offered their services.

Ms. Fowler is not returning my calls. I have tracked down their marketing person responsible for Internet, but she's never available. It finally dawned on me to just use their web site to tell them, since I don't think they realize what is happening, so I sent this (it's verbatim, except I've corrected a spelling error (oops)):

I am boycotting your stores for the obvious reason that you are threatening to sue me over the name Roadkills-R-Us. It's satire, not a business! I have repeatedly informed your attorneys of this, but they seem to be stuck in a rut. RRU has been on the net for over 7 years - and you just got here, and immediately got ugly. So I am running a contest for a new name, but I'm also telling the world the details, and you are getting a LOT of bad press over this.

Others are boycotting as well. Your legal department is currently NOT returning my phone calls, and the person whose name & number I was given for Internet PR never seems to be in when I call. Geoffrey is looking pretty silly about now. I didn't *want* to do this. I tried extremely hard to be reasonable, but your legal department has acted in a high-handed, and quite absurd fashion, so I saw no other choice but taking my case to the public.

Don't believe me? Check out the following URLs:

http://www.rru.com/rru/contest/ http://www.rru.com/rru/tru/

Those pages are getting thousands of hits every day, growing at a very fast rate. I urge you to get someone from marketing involved before Geoffrey gets any more egg on his face.

Respectfully yours, Miles

We have 100s of responses, all in our favor. We have faxed a number of these to Ms Fowler (including the ones above, but with names attached). No word.
Last updated: 05 January 1999
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Copyright 1995-2008 Roadkills-R-Us, Austin, TX. All rights preserved, jellied, or jammed. All giraffe images based on an image courtesy of Philip Greenspun. Gratefully used with permission. Roadkills-R-Us and RRU are trademarks of Miles O'Neal <meo@rru.com>. Web space provided by Net Ads.