I registered designskunkworks.com, thinking it would be a good name for an Internet product company, not realising that Skunkworks was a real, trademarked facility run by Lockheed Martin — or that you can now threaten to sue people just for registering a domain name.
I've long been a fan of David Thorne's hilarious email exchanges on 27b/6 and wondered if the technique could be put to use in a real word scenario. Big companies don't do surreal. So when I received a nasty takedown letter from Lockheed Martin's lawyers, I sent them a picture of a kitten.
Below is the email exchange that ensued:
I'm happy to transfer this domain, since for ethical reasons I do not wish to be associated with Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of cluster bombs and weapons of mass destruction, or any of the people such as yourselves who represent them in such a harassing manner.
The domain was bought in good faith that it was not a trademark violation, since skunkworks is a commonly used term. I do not host this domain and any monies being made from it are by the domain registrar, whom you can contact separately. Since I have no idea how to assign a domain please send detailed instructions.
Here is a picture of an 8 week old kitten taken by Sasan Geranmehr to take your mind off things
Dear Mr. Galbraith:
Thank you for your cooperation. In order to transfer the domain name to Lockheed Martin, we will need you to do the following:
(1) Contact your registrar, Domain.com, and request that the domain name be unlocked;
(2) Also request that Domain.com provide you with an authorization code to transfer the domain name (this may not be available for 60 days following the registration of the domain name);
(3) Once you obtain the authorization code, please forward it to my e-mail address as well as to **************@******.com;
(4) As the administrative contact for the domain name, you will then receive an e-mail from Corporation Service Company (i.e., ****************@*******.com) asking that you approve the transfer of the domain name to Lockheed Martin Corporation. Please reply to that e-mail stating "I agree" to the domain name transfer.
We look forward to receiving the transfer authorization code.
I was a bit disappointed that you didn't thank me for the nice picture of the kitten I sent you.
I thought it was a kind gesture since, after having registered a domain that I quite reasonably believed was merely a concatenation of commonly used English words, I was wrongly, distressingly and somewhat unbelievably accused of attempting to harm the business and reputation of a colossal arms manufacturer. I was also incorrectly accused of attempting to make money from this, when simple due diligence would have shown this to be false.
I'm further distressed since having done a Google search for Lockheed Martin to see if you were in fact acting for them or this was just some kind of weird practical joke, there were some really gruesome images of people with no eyes and disfiguring wounds under the title ‘Lockheed Martin Cluster Bomb victim'. I need to see some pleasant and reassuring pictures of cute animals to remove these horrible images which have permeated my subconscious.
So here's the deal. I'm out of pocket $US9.99 for the domain you want me to give to you and doing this transfer to gift it to you is a considerable hassle vs letting the domain lapse, as is, without me ever using it (I have cancelled automatic annual renewals and will never host any website there), which I agree to do unconditionally. I also doubt I would win a fight against someone with nuclear weapons with my Swiss Army Knife.
If you send me a link to a picture of a really cute puppy, I'll transfer the domain to you.
Dear Mr. Galbraith:
We appreciate your cooperation. Our client is willing to reimburse your costs for registration of the domain name if you can provide us with proof of same (e.g., receipt, invoice, etc.). We will also need you to complete the attached W9 form to process any reimbursement costs. Thank you.
Sorry for the delay, I was in London, which would have been nice had it not rained cats and dogs.
Speaking of which, since the costs of me providing you with what you need to process the $US9.99 reimbursement you offer would exceed the amount offered, and since, without doubt, the costs for your client to process this would also exceed the amount. Further, since the costs for yourself to organise this reimbursement would also certainly exceed this, it would be both a waste of money for all parties concerned and merely a symbolic gesture.
I am sure we agree on not wasting money and I am happy that you are interested in a symbolic gesture. The picture of a puppy will be much cheaper and fill me with the joy that money simply cannot buy. It will more that recompense for the tedium of following the steps your client would like, beyond merely not doing anything with the domain DesignSkunkworks.com
I look forward to receiving a wonderful picture of a puppy (as long as it isn't a Chihuahua, or any other dog that is smaller than a domestic cat when fully grown) after which I will gladly go through the detailed instructions your client would ideally like.
I didn't receive a response from my last email of July 24th, with the
suggestion of a settlement using puppy pictures rather than cash. I
thought I might, since your first letter contained all sorts of
terrifying crypto-intimidatory legalese like I imagine you get when
you haven't returned a library book for 36 years in a Kafka novel,
demanding "steps" and "written assurances" etc. with a deadline of
"August 6th, 2012″.
It's now September and I've received less than one puppy image.
I understand that puppy picture payment must be a more demanding
logistical problem, due to its unorthodox nature, for a corporation
like Lockheed Martin in comparison with Byzantine legal procedure or,
indeed, the manufacture of thermonuclear devices. I can comprehend
that, it's no doubt a serious business and gravitas is important
Gravitas, isn't important to me, however. I genuinely believe the
world would be a better place if eminently solvable legal disputes
were resolved by the ludicrous ritual exchange of somewhat cloyingly
saccharine pictures that nevertheless made people whose personality
has been subsumed by institutional groupthink melt like grannies
huddled round a new born.
I've invented a new term for this, Skunk Puppying.
Accordingly, if I haven't heard from you by September 17th 2012, I'll
assume that you are taking this matter no further and I'll have to get
a copyright free or Creative Commons (CC BY-SA) puppy pic, elsewhere.
All the best
I thought it would be good to to a Skunkpuppy logo for other people to use when skunkpuppying. If you want to reward people who send you nasty letters with pictures of cute animals, you would be free to use this under a Creative Commons licence.
I was thinking something along the lines of a cartoon dog wearing a superhero outfit with his fist in the air.
My friend Keith had a stab some ideas already.
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David Galbraith is a designer and co-founder of several Internet companies including Yelp. He used to be an architect, working for Norman Foster. He's designed of all sorts of things from skyscrapers to software applications, but specialises in designing the obvious. He created the visual bookmark concept behind Pinterest, the one-line bios used by Twitter and Facebook, and co-created RSS.