Facebook removes "I Hate the Pedal Pub" page after Pedal Pub's lawyer complains

Facebook removes "I Hate the Pedal Pub" page after Pedal Pub's lawyer complains

Since Matt Peterson created the "I Hate the Pedal Pub" Facebook page in 2010, it's taken off in popularity, "liked" by hundreds who share Peterson's complaints about the roaming beer bikes.

But about a week ago, when Peterson went to log in, he had a message waiting from Facebook: the social media giant had removed the page, and Peterson could only get it back, Facebook wrote, by negotiating with the "complaining party."

The next day, Peterson found out that that party was Pedal Pub.

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This isn't the first time "I Hate the Pedal Pub" and Pedal Pub have clashed. In February 2013, Facebook removed photos of "I Hate the Pedal Pub" stickers, citing a copyright violation, but reinstated them -- and apologized -- a week later. In May, Pedal Pub contacted "I Hate the Pedal Pub" by email to ask them to refrain from encouraging any direct, physical action against Pedal Pub or its employees, which IHTPP did.

But this time around, the dispute has escalated. After Peterson got the notice from Facebook, he emailed the contact Facebook had given him. The next day, he got a response.

"I am [an] attorney representing my client PedalPub LLC," the lawyer's email begins. "Your page has been taken down by Facebook due to TRADEMARK infringement... may I suggest that you contact an attorney to advise you of what is at stake."

"Let me make clear," the lawyer's email continues. "You will be immediately faced with a civil lawsuit for damages if you continue to use any of the PEDALPUB registered marks... and/or any marks that are nearly identical and/or confusingly similar." 

Peterson, though, saw it differently: as a free speech issue. His page, and the t-shirts and stickers he had created, all seemed to be protected as either parody or protest.

"Generally speaking, if it is a parody then it would be protected by freedom of speech," explains Jana Kooren of the ACLU's Minnesota chapter, adding that even something like a petition to shut down Pedal Pub would generally be covered by free speech rights.

But, she cautions, Facebook is a private entity that can determine its own rules about what it allows: "We don't necessarily have free speech protections on Facebook."

And in any case, she says, Peterson would still have to defend himself.

"He should never be criminally charged for that, but that doesn't prevent him from ever getting a lawsuit," Kooren says. "You have a free speech right, but that doesn't prevent them from trying to stop you."

Reached by phone, Pedal Pub partner Al Boyce would not comment on whether Pedal Pub had hired the lawyer, or what had spurred the company to take action.

"Regarding the hater page being dropped from Facebook, that is between the owner of that page, Matthew Peterson, and Facebook," Boyce wrote in an email. "Mr. Peterson has been informed by Facebook what he needs to do to reprise some form of his page."

Peterson has consulted with a trademark lawyer and is weighing how far he wants to pursue getting his page back.

"I don't really want to get involved with a ton of lawyers over a Facebook page," he says. "But I still want to have this content, and want to be able to point out some of the issues that I think are pretty prevalent, and want to have people who are interested respond to that."

-- Reach Olivia LaVecchia at [email protected] or on Twitter at @olavecchia

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