Who knew that the word ‘zeta’ was trademarked? Scientist and author Tariq Rashid found out the hard way
When designing t-shirts, it’s quite clear that there are some words and images you can’t use due to copyright, but if you’re using an ancient Greek letter you’d think you’d be safe.
UK-based data scientist and author Tariq Rashid thought he’d be okay when he tried to create a t-shirt using print shop Spring to celebrate the Riemann zeta function.
Widely known amongst mathematicians, the zeta function is a function of maths and physics which is used for investigating properties of prime numbers.
You can even win a huge pot of money if you solve the famous ‘Riemann Hypothesis’, which many have tried and failed to do.
After uploading his design to Spring, it removed Rashid’s design because it included the trademarked word ‘zeta’ in its blurb.
Confused, Rashid emailed the company to work out why it had been rejected, to which 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.’”
However, after reviewing Rashid’s content again, they placed it back into active status as it “does not violate current ownership.”
Affinity Consultants are based in Carlsbad, California, and have been coordinating trademark licensing for various Greek-lettered organizations, like fraternities and sororities, who use combinations of Greek letters to identify themselves.
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As reported by The Register, the purpose of trademark law is to prevent commercial confusion, not to grant exclusive ownership of a word in all contexts.
This is how companies like Delta Airlines and Delta Faucets exist without legal threats from Affinity Consultants on behalf of Greek letter organizations like Tri Delta.
In response to an inquiry from The Register, 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, saying 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, with one user saying: “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.”
Who knew that the Greek alphabet could cause so much controversy?