Being on the Internet, you’re probably aware of the Streisand Effect. It seems as though Hasbro, makers of the always-popular-at-Giz Nerf Guns, haven’t, as they’re suing an Aussie blogger (and more or less former Nerf fan) via what allegedly appears to be some rather devious tactics.
Martyn Yang’s a Canberra based public servant, but he’s also something of a large scale fan of soft foamy weaponry, and Hasbro’s Nerf range in particular. His site, Urban Taggers ran a review of Hasbro’s unreleased N-STRIKE ELITE “RAMPAGE” BLASTER, which Yang states he sourced via Chinese Auction site Taobao. That stuff happens from time to time, and Yang was delighted when Hasbro representatives allegedly contacted him with the offer of some Nerf Pinpoint Sights to both review and give away as prizes on his site; all they’d need was his address to send the products to.
So far, so good.
Then (again, allegedly according to Yang), the legal fun and games began. Having sent through his address, rather than prizes, he received a letter from legal firm Baker & McKenzie (representing Hasbro) demanding that he remove the images and review of the N-STRIKE ELITE “RAMPAGE”, along with turning over all information (including IP address) of wherever he’d sourced the information.
Yang complied with the request to remove the review, but citing journalistic obligations to protect his sources, didn’t specify the exact details of his transaction, stating that he’d got them off Taobao, and suggesting that they check the site there as Nerf products apparently often come up.
The lawyers wanted more detail, but at the exact same time, the PR side of Hasbro was still allegedly reaching out to Yang trying again to get his address to send him the pinpoint sights. This (understandably) confused Yang, who mentioned it in correspondence with Hasbro’s legal folks, who apparently knew nothing of it — but still wanted Yang’s sources for the N-STRIKE product.
Then things got really strange; according to Yang, one Sunday, two people were spotted hanging around his apartment by his neighbours; when confronted by him, they wanted to tape the conversation with him; it appears that the two (one of whom identified herself as “Christine”) may have been private investigators hired by Hasbro’s legal firm.
Yang understandably wasn’t impressed; in his correspondence with the legal firm, he wrote
“I realise I forgot to get back to you because I have been busy with work and non-Nerf matters but I really think that it was extremely unprofessional and wrong to send strange people to come and lurk around my apartment block menacingly like that. You really freaked out the neighbours and people who live nearby mentioned some strange woman and a big-looking repo-man-looking guy hanging around suspiciously.
First of all, you’re lucky that no one called the police. Secondly, I really do not appreciate being ambushed by lawyers or their representatives on a Sunday afternoon when I haven’t done anything wrong, I have taken down the images and it’s not my fault that neither you nor Hasbro seem to be able to find out whoever the original source of the guns. It would also have been appropriate to give me forewarning so that I could have a lawyer present.”
Yang has now referred the matter of the Office of the NSW Legal Services Commissioner. When Crikey contacted the legal firm, they were told it couldn’t make any comment; Hasbro did likewise.
There’s clearly a couple of interesting things at play here. Sure, at one level it is just about plastic soft foam guns, but equally, confidential information does leak online at a rate of knots these days — see, for example, the entire Apple rumours industry. It’s not entirely unreasonable for a company to try to protect its trade secrets, however at the same time, if, as Yang alleges, Hasbro used the promise of promotional freebies to garner his address, that’s a massive public relations misstep that they’re now no doubt regretting.