AAL Insight: Instagram, Littergram and corporate name battles

A row erupted into the public consciousness this week as Instagram has ordered the owner of an anti-litter app based in Britain to change its ‘unacceptable’ name.

  • Last updated Feb 10, 2018 4:54:57 PM
  • By Jack J Collins, Editor, AllAboutLaw.co.uk
Image courtesy of Flickr User, zenspa1

Danny Lucas, who owns Littergram, tried to register the brand in 2015, but met with resistance from Facebook, who previously bought Instagram for $1 billion (£629 million) in 2012. They are working with the law firm Bristows to try and find a solution.

Lucas came up with the idea for Littergram in 2014, when he started sending ‘telegram postcards’ of litter, to local councils in an attempt to try and make the streets of the UK cleaner and more acceptable.

The app requires that the user take photos of litter lying around in the streets, adding location tags and thus making local authority officials aware of the presence of discarded items lying around. It is also used to name and shame those who are committing the littering, with special sections of the app reserved for those who throw unwanted items from their car windows.

He stated that his ultimate goal was to try and turn littering into an action which was widely regarded as being as anti-social as drink-driving, and that by using the app to its full capability, he hoped to educate children on the dangers and downfalls of dropping litter.

Bristows sent Lucas a letter stating that whilst Instagram appreciates the noble objectives of his project in a social manner, the name was simply not acceptable because the two apps both had a similar photo sharing objective.

It went on to highlight that Littergram “utilizes and relies on social media usage” in the same way that Instagram does, and claimed that it could not allow a similarly named app to continue “in relation to services which are core to its world renowned activities in this area.”

It stated that Lucas had three to six months to phase out the name Littergram and replace it with something else. A spokesperson for Facebook colluded with this, stating that it admired the social motivations of Littergram and that they were engaged in conversation in order to try and see if there was a way that Littergram could operate so the app was different enough not to infringe on the Instagram trademark.

However, they went on to say that ultimately Littergram was a photo-sharing app and that in itself was too similar a concept to allow it to continue functioning with a similar name base. It did say however that it hoped an agreement could be found and that they had not filed a court case in the hope that the matter could be settled outside the courtroom.

However, Lucas this week posted a video message asking for a direct intervention from Mark Zuckerberg with the case. He stated on video that he had received a “heavy handed letter” and that he hoped that a personal intervention from the top would help his cause.

“He’s into good causes; he understands doing good,” Lucas said in an interview with Mashable. "Littergram has the potential to improve lives, save money and create a brand new way of dealing with an epidemic that is destroying our society, not just here in the UK, but globally."

He stated further that changing the name of the app would completely ”destroy all of our ingenuity and hard work,” because it’s vital to the engagement of a youth audience with the app. Lucas says that the name Littergram is “a bit cooler than Keep Britain Tidy,” and that it was the name that drew young people to using the app.

"We have just reached our first major milestone with our free LitterGram Council Portal and have now got the UK’s first council to officially partner with LitterGram," Lucas added. "Significant to say the least. The penny has dropped. This app can now spread to 433 other councils around the UK."

Whilst the possibility of a court case remains intact, it will be interesting to see if Zuckerberg gets personally involved in this issue, as a philanthropist. However, if it does end up in front of judge and jury, Lucas can take some heart from the case regarding the Hungry Hobbit snack bar in Birmingham, which Hollywood tried to sue in 2012 for copyright infringement of the film of the same name, but the idea was quashed in court and the sandwich bar has kept its name to this day.

We just hope that if it does go to court, that the barrister for the prosecution puts a nice little filter on to get the judge’s wig in the best possible light!

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