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UK-based data scientist and author Tariq Rashid found this out the hard way when he tried to create a t-shirt using print shop Spring to celebrate the Riemann zeta function.
The zeta function is well known amongst mathematicians and is a function of maths and physics which is used for investigating properties of prime numbers.
If you solve the famous ‘Riemann Hypothesis’, which many have tried and failed to do, you can win a huge sum of money – although many have tried and failed to solve it.
After uploading his design to Spring, it removed Rashid’s design because it included the trademarked word ‘zeta’ in its blurb.
The removal left Rashid confused and he emailed the company to find out why his design had been rejected. They replied: “We completely understand your concerns about our keyword block. As you are aware, Zeta is a letter of the Greek Alphabet.
“The Greek alphabet is currently protected legally by the Affinity Client Services. Due to this ownership and the takedowns we have received, we must police our platform for content using ‘Zeta.’”
After a further review of Rashid’s content, it was then placed back into active status as it “does not violate current ownership.”
Affinity Consultants are based in Carlsbad, California. They have been coordinating trademark licensing for various Greek-lettered organizations, like fraternities and sororities, who use combinations of Greek letters to identify themselves.
As reported by The Register, the purpose of trademark law is to prevent commercial confusion. They do not to grant exclusive ownership of a word in all contexts.
This is how some companies, like Delta Airlines and Delta Faucets, exist without legal threats from Affinity Consultants on behalf of Greek letter organizations like Tri Delta.
A spokesperson from Spring said that the t-shirt printing company were simply being ‘over cautious.’
“At Teespring (now Spring) we have rigorous technology in place to ensure any keywords monitored or contentious material featured is flagged and reviewed.
“The business consistently errs on the side of caution when reviewing materials and products on the platform. Here an element was flagged as part of this vetting process, resulting in temporary removal from the site. This listing has now been reinstated to our platform after the review proved to have no contentious elements.”
Rashid didn’t agree with this statement though. He stated that Spring removed his t-shirt listing from public view and prevented it from being published again, and then allowed him to make the item live whilst making it clear that using the word zeta would ‘result in problems’.
This sparked angry Twitter responses. One user said: “There needs to be a penalty for bad takedown requests, so that rights holders must actually make sure the copyright applies before making the request.”
Another replied: “I wonder if they know how common the Greek letter π is in math.”
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