Hong Kong talent agency slaps brands with legal letters over intellectual property rights infringement

One of the owners of a talent agency Valkyrie Agency asks brands to stop using internet jargon “見字飲水” (When you see this word, drink water) as registered by his agency in 2020 with the Hong Kong Government Intellectual Property Department.

Several brands in Hong Kong have already received e-mails or letters of formal notice from Valkyrie Agency, asking them to compensate for infringement of intellectual property rights. According to emails seen by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, Valkyrie Agency has filed a claim for compensation, demanding the brands pay a five-figure sum. In the email, Valkyrie Agency also stated that it would take legal action against the brand, including but not limited to the costs of the legal action and the removal of material that violates the intellectual property rights, if the brand does not respond within seven days.

Information from the Intellectual Property Department of the Hong Kong government has revealed that Internet jargon “見字飲水” was enrolled in class 32 and class 35. According to the website, Class 32 contains various types of beverages; while class 35 relates to many types of professions and services. In addition, Internet jargon has also been registered in Classes 21 and 28. These classes relate respectively to household or kitchen utensils and containers, as well as toys, games, playthings and novelties. The department said applicants must provide proper classification and clear descriptions of goods and/or services in the form they submit.

Terence Nam, founder of Valkyrie Agency, said INTERACTIVE-MARKETING that he created the Facebook page”見字飲水協會 See this and Drink water Association” several years ago. Nam said he was approached by a trademark registration company after internet lingo gained popularity, and was told that given the popularity of the term, he should have it registered. The company also informed him that such a pull should not just be a free trendjack as many brands use the term “見字飲水“.

Currently, Nam is asking brands, excluding micro-enterprises, to compensate for its losses. Nam added that on the same Facebook page, the trademark symbol “®” is right next to the Internet lingo in the “About” section. The page also welcomes business collaborations as mentioned in the same section.

Nam said he currently sends emails to brands that infringe copyright. He will also issue formal notices and file a claim with the Small Claims Court.

A report from HKET said that in response to an online message, the “Seeing and Drinking Water Associationsaid he registered the trademark two years ago. In response to an Instagram account known as HKPR_memes, the page said, “Regardless of business practices, if you want to use this expression, you must contact us .”

The Facebook page”見字飲水協會 See this and Drink water Association” regularly publishes articles with photos, talking about trending topics in Hong Kong from all over the world. Nam claims that he sources memes from the Internet or photos from media before providing additional information. He explained that memes are secondary creation, which is not protected by any regulations on intellectual property rights.

A seasoned creative agency professional said INTERACTIVE-MARKETING under anonymity that many in the industry are shocked by the incident with the legal letters being sent. He added that the move will certainly warn brands to steer clear of popular internet lingo and as such could see its popularity decline. Subsequently, with reduced usage, the owner will not be able to leverage popularity for monetization purposes as the public will avoid using it.

Another digital marketing practitioner in the industry opined that since the amount of money Valkyrie Agency is asking for is affordable, it will be compensated for the losses as the brands have “really used the internet lingo for business purposes”.

According to Hong Kong Government Intellectual Property Department, the Hong Kong government is consulting the public on “parody” but not on “secondary creation”. She stated that “secondary creation” is not a term commonly used in copyright jurisprudence and that it is difficult to determine its actual coverage, adding that “the provision of an exception to the right of authorship based solely on the rather ambiguous concept of “secondary creation” can blur the lines between infringing and non-infringing works, creating uncertainty and increasing the potential for abuse. »

Moreover, in recent decades, newspapers on.cc repeatedly sued Apple Daily for using his photos without permission, infringing his intellectual property rights. The Hong Kong government said it would not insist on prosecuting copyright infringement without involving the copyright holder. He explained on the ministry’s website: “The most fundamental element of copyright infringements is that the relevant acts were committed without the consent of the copyright holder and thus constitute an infringement of copyright. If the copyright owner does not object or pursue the case, there is no basis for the law enforcement agency to pursue a criminal investigation, not to mention sue.”

On March 25, the Facebook page “見字飲水協會 Seeing and Drinking Water Association” and the Instagram account “seethisdrinkwater” cannot be found.

(Photo courtesy: 123rf)

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