Amazon.com goes to the mats.
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 99 18:50:38 -0700
Subject: Amazon.com goes to the mats.
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Forwarded-by: Nev Dull <email@example.com>
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What follows is an excerpt from a weekly email publication devoted to books
and literature. It contains transcripts from a TRADEMARK infringement
lawsuit brought by a 25 year old brick and mortar feminist bookstore (named
Amazon Books) against Amazon.com for trademark violation. I am not sure if
I should laugh at how desperate Amazon.com seems, or angry that Amazon.com
is basing their trademark defense strategy around trying to smear the
bookstore with a homophobic paintbrush!
[FROM] Holt Uncensored #100
Tuesday, October 19, 1999:
AMAZON V. AMAZON:
SEX, LIES AND DEPOSITIONS
So here's the scene: One of the five owners of Amazon Bookstore in
Minneapolis -- the oldest feminist bookstore in the country -- is being
deposed by lawyers representing Amazon.com, the online bookseller based in
Seattle -- when a very strange thing happens.
Q (AMAZON.COM LAWYER): Have you had any particular interest in feminism?
A (AMAZON BOOKSTORE CO-OWNER): Yes.
Q: Dating back to when?
MR. SAMUEL (Amazon Bookstore lawyer): Objection, Vague.
A. I don't know. I don't remember.
Q. Seventies, college, before?
Q. Have you had any interest in promoting lesbian ideals in the community?
MR. SAMUEL: Object to the question as vague. Also it's completely
A. I don't know exactly. Can you be a little clearer?
Q. I'll ask you this, are you gay? [To Mr. Samuel] And let me say this,
Matt, you know the objections. I understand you have a job to do, and I'm
going to ignore you for the rest of the deposition ...
Good heavens. As you may remember (see #80), Amazon Bookstore (founded in
1970) is suing Amazon.com (founded in 1995) for trademark infringement.
The Minneapolis bookstore contends that it has lost money for years because
of confusion created by customers and vendors who mistake Amazon Bookstore
for Amazon.com. Attempts by Amazon Bookstore to find a peaceful solution
through talks with Amazon.com were rebuffed, they say, and they sued. So
now: What does sexual orientation have to do with trademark infringement?
Let's get back to the deposition after a number of objections and
discussions have followed.
Q: In 1987, was the purpose of the entity for which you worked to just sell
books for profit?
A: We sell books to stay in business for a profit, yeah. I guess I would say
Q: You sell books, but has the purpose remained the same since 1987?
A: The purpose is -- has been to sell books.
Q: Nothing else?
A: Not in my opinion.
Q. Okay. . . Are any of the employees at the Bookstore gay, and forgive me
for asking this question.
MR. SAMUEL: I'm going to object to the question as irrelevant. Calls for
A: You're asking me to speculate on my coworkers' sexuality, is that the
Q: I'm asking if you know.
And here the Amazon.com lawyer inserts what is to him an analogy that will
Q: I think, for example, if I tell people or introduce them to my wife and
tell them this is my wife, I'm married to her, if somebody asks me if I'm
married or asks somebody else to whom I've just introduced my wife whether
I'm married, that person can say yeah, he's married, to my knowledge to a
So I'm asking you if you know if any of the individuals that you work for
are gay to your knowledge.
MR. SAMUEL: Counsel, that's an absurd comparison, and you know that. You're
not asking -- you can ask her if any of the women at the Bookstore are
Q: You accused me of stereotypes. What's the difference of being married to
a man or woman? Essentially, that's what I'm asking. Do you know if any of
the women at the Bookstore, are any of the women at the bookstore married to
A: It's not legal to be married to a woman.
Q: Do they have partners?
We don't know from this public record if everyone laughed out loud at the
Amazon.com's lawyer's confusion over what his wife is doing in a story
that's supposed to elicit answers about gay identity. But let's give some
points to the Amazon Bookstore co-owner for helpfully pointing out something
he should know as a lawyer -- that women can't be married to one another.
Why she doesn't bonk him on the head with a law book is a puzzlement. And
what any of this has to do with trademark infringement is a mystery. Could
it be that Amazon.com has no defense, and its lawyers know it? Ah, but the
next day the Amazon.com lawyer is fresh and anxious to do the right thing
as he begins deposing another co-owner of Amazon Bookstore, to whom he shows
Q: You see in the E-mail it states, all the owners at this time of Amazon
Bookstore Cooperative and historically have been all lesbians. Do you see
A: No. Where is that?
Q: Is that an accurate statement, to your knowledge? I don't mean to ask a
personal question, and I apologize for doing so.
MR. SAMUEL: Yeah. Just hold on for a second. . .
(OBJECTIONS AND OFF-THE-RECORD DISCUSSIONS FOLLOW)
Q: Do you know whether any of the current owners or employees of Amazon
Bookstore Cooperative are partners?
MR. SAMUEL: Same objection . . . this question is invasive, and it's clearly
irrelevant. (MORE OBJECTIONS)
Finally the Amazon.com lawyer decides to state why he thinks the question
is relevant. He stops the proceedings and says the following: "I think it's
important, as I said yesterday, that a jury understands how Amazon Bookstore
Cooperative represents itself to the public, and I think as part of that,
it's important for the jury to know, for example, whether the people who
work in the Bookstore have a particular sexual orientation because obviously
from the perspective of my client, we think that's important to the case,
the defense's case, and that is one of the grounds for relevance."
You can skip the rest of his explanation, but in deference to what I think
he is trying to say I've transcribed it anyway:
"And on the question of whether people are partners, in deposing people,
and if we continue to depose employees at the Bookstore, I would certainly
like to know if they have a relationship with somebody else at the
Bookstore. And it would be more likely than not that they would have
access to the same information, similar to a man and a woman who are
Well, there he goes again (not listening to yesterday's witness, by the
way), though it's clear he's not comfortable with the line of questioning
and has one thing further to say:
"And, again, I don't take any pleasure in asking these questions, and from
my perspective, I ask them -- to me, it's like asking somebody if they have
red hair. I don't particularly put a label on somebody because they have
a particular sexual orientation. To me if you're married, it doesn't
matter if you're married as a man and a woman, woman and woman or man and
So that's very gracious of Amazon.com's lawyer, and we're sure the co-owners
of Amazon Bookstore, who had to sit through many days of questions and
assumptions that were just as irrelevant as these, felt a lot better when
he explained himself.
Meanwhile, it's worth looking at such testimony to appreciate why the court
makes these kinds of depositions public: If Amazon.com thinks it's playing
some kind of hardball by disclosing the sexual identity and relationships
of the staff of Amazon Bookstore, we should know it.
And we should know that all of these questions are being asked not just by
some attorney fishing for bait he can use later but "from the perspective
of my client," which is to say the people who own and operate Amazon.com.
Can't you see some strategist in a back room somewhere suddenly looking as
if the light has dawned. Say, he says to himself, these women are dykes! We
can't lose! Our 'defense' is proof they're a bunch of lezbos and we walk
away with the trial!
Otherwise, why ask how "the Amazon Bookstore Cooperative represents itself
to the public" when it's clear on every identifying statement made by that
store that it's a feminist bookstore? Its website is
http://www.amazonFEMBKS.com (emphasis mine). Its purpose is the same as
every other independent bookstore in the country -- to "sell books to stay
in business for a profit" as the co-owner testified. Of course it sells a
lot of lesbian books -- so does Amazon.com!
To Matt Samuel, the Amazon Bookstore lawyer who appears to be getting madder
and madder during the depositions, "this line of questioning by Amazon.com
borders on the outrageous," as he said on the phone yesterday. To stop it,
on October 8 he moved for a protective order "to prevent Defendant
Amazon.com from inquiring into the sexual orientation or relationships of
any witness in this case."
In this motion, Samuel makes the astute observation that "under Amazon.com's
view of the law, Amazon Bookstore could and should have asked Amazon.com's
President, Jeff Bezos, if he is gay or straight, and whether he is sleeping
with anyone in his company who also might be a witness.
"One would think that both Mr. Bezos and his counsel would have taken
offense at this line of questioning, and refused to answer. The principals
of Amazon Bookstore are entitled to every bit as much respect and protection
from harassment as Mr. Bezos."
So come on, Jeff, one wants to say: Call off the dogs. This suit is a
legitimate attempt to determine trademark infringement. It's not about
anything else. If you think it is, you're not fighting fair. (And by the
way, have you ever had a boyfriend?)
Note: The hearing on this motion is set for October 27. Anyone who'd like
to contribute to the Amazon Bookstore Legal Defense Fund can send checks to
the store (Amazon Bookstore, 1612 Harmon Place, Minneapolis MI 55403.
Should Amazon Bookstore win or settle the suit, all donations will be
returned. You can also buy AmazonNOTcom buttons ($2 each plus .75) or
t-shirts ($18 plus $4 shipping & handling) that say "I support the original
Amazon Bookstore. Since 1970" by contacting email@example.com .
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© 1999 Peter Langston