Slyly if not secretly, Facebook has just tightened its grip on the intellectual property right to yet another incredibly generic, remarkably common word: "book." As if the also generic and common words "face", "poke" and "wall" weren't enough, the company added "book" to its list of do-not-touch terms in a newly revised user agreement. This means that if you use the word "book" on the Internet in a way that Facebook or its lawyers deem unsavory, the social network can decide to sue you. This is not a joke.
There have already been three "book"-related legal battles -- one for Teachbook, one for Shagbook and one for Lamebook, and in the case of the former, it looks like Facebook is winning. While they settled with Lamebook out of court, Facebook filed suit against Shagbook last August and cleared the first legal hurdle to take down Teachbook a few weeks later.
We know what you're thinking: There's no way that Facebook would ever go out and sue every new website that uses the word book in its name. What of the hungry entrepreneur who dreamed of launching her very own sneaker fan site Footbook.com? Well if that entrepreneur is a Facebook user, she's put herself at a disadvantage, if she signed into Facebook in the past few hours, tacitly agreeing that Facebook owns part of her site's name. As University of Minnesota Law Professor William McGeveran explained to Ars Technica, who spotted the key change in the agreement on Friday afternoon, "They hope that by putting it in TOS (terms of service) they can improve the enforceability of their asserted trademark rights." That and perhaps scare off anyone who's considering starting _____book.com. (FYI: Barnes and Noble owns Book.com) As with all things litigation-related, it'll be up to a judge to decide whether or not to throw the book (sorry!) at them.