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Nerf guns at 10 paces: Hasbro faces boycott after siccing lawyers onto fan site

US-based toy multinational Hasbro is embroiled in a damaging Internet scandal after it marshalled henchmen representing global lawyers Baker & McKenzie to take aim at an online fan for posting photos of his favourite Hasbro Nerf guns.

The saga, in which Hasbro allegedly tricked a Canberra based public servant Martyn Yang into revealing his home address so they could serve him with a legal letter, has now been referred to the NSW Legal Services Commissioner and this morning became the subject of a rapidly-spreading anti-Hasbro meme.

Last month, Yang, who scours the internet for the latest Nerf, Lazer Tag and Super Soaker scoops on his popular hobbyist toyblaster blog Urban Taggers, was sitting at home when he received an unexpected email from Hasbro’s Pacific Product Manager Leigh Gibson. Gibson was writing with an apparent offer of some exclusive Nerf loot:

On 15 March 2012 12:27, Gibson, Leigh

Hi there,

I have some of the above [Nerf Pinpoint Sights] in our office I can give to you as a giveaway – noticed you were wanting to know if they are in Australia. We ordered some as a gift with purchase but haven’t used them anywhere yet. Please let me know if you are interested and I can see how many we can spare.

Kind regards,

Leigh

Yang, who goes by the online handle ‘Pocket’, replied positively, and was keen to launch a giveaway for his legion of fans:

From: Pocket
Sent: Thursday, 15 March 2012 3:06 PM
To: Gibson, Leigh
Subject: Re: The Nerf Pinpoint Sight

Hi Leigh,

Thanks so much for your email, and good to hear from an official Hasbro channel! The Pinpoint sight IS probably one of the most sought after accessories so offering some to us for a giveaway would be fantastic and would definitely be a very popular prize. Did you have anything in mind you’d like to see us do/push/promote?

Thanks

Pocket

urbantaggers.com

Gibson, CCing in her colleague, Assistant Product Manager Peter Weavers, wrote back to Yang within minutes, asking for his postal address.

From: Gibson, Leigh
Date: 15 March 2012 15:11
Subject: RE: The Nerf Pinpoint Sight
To: “Pocket Esq.”
Cc: “Weavers, Peter”

Hi,

No – they aren’t for sale anywhere –

My colleague Pete will send some to you (plus one for yourself) if you can let us know where to send them. We should be able to spare 10 for giveaway so will send you 11 – Pete will confirm this qty.

Thanks,

Leigh

But the Pinpoint Sights never arrived. Instead, six days later, Yang was sent a threatening letter from Baker & McKenzie partner Robert Arnold on behalf of Hasbro, demanding he remove “commercially sensitive information and copyright protected images about its unreleased N-STRIKE ELITE “RAMPAGE” BLASTER…”. Further, Arnold demanded that Yang provide him with the “name, address, email and IP address” of  “the person that provided you with this information” within 24 hours.

Gibson appears to have used a false offer of free merch to dupe Yang into giving up his street address.

Yang fired back over email, agreeing to take the images down but, citing recent amendments to the Australian Evidence Act regarding a journalistic obligation to protect his sources, refused to name his informant, suggesting instead that Arnold check out mainstream shopping sites like Ebay and Taobao (the Chinese Ebay) if he wanted to get the lowdown on the latest Nerf products. Google might also be of assistance, Yang said, “to do a targetted search in the same way I do, using appropriate search parameters to narrow the scope of the search”. Crikey found the Strike Rayven within a few clicks …

Arnold wanted a follow-up chat but not before Hasbro’s Weavers had bizarrely emailed again, saying he had “ordered 11 pin point sights for you. Can you please supply a delivery address?”

And Arnold wasn’t giving up either, claiming that Hasbro’s address request “had nothing to do with me”.

From: Arnold, Robert
Date: 30 March 2012 08:48
Subject: Nerf Rampage/Urban Taggers.com
To: Pocket Esq

Dear -

Thank you for your email. Sorry to have spoiled your fun, but Hasbro has real concerns about your ability to access NERF products before they are released to the market. We refer in particular to your reviews of the “Vortex Nitron” and “Rayven” models  in June and October 2011. Hasbro needs to know from whom you obtained the samples that you used for these reviews.

You’ll appreciate how important it is for Hasbro to maintain the integrity of its supply process. I hope that you’ll reconsider and be prepared to discuss these issues with me.

As for your question about the request for your address, this had nothing to do with me. I can only assume that Hasbro really does want to send you some stuff. Hasbro actually admires what you are doing with your blogsite and has no wish to shut you down. But you must understand that Hasbro has got to find out where these samples came from.

I look forward to talking to you.

Regards,

Robert Arnold

Partner

Three weeks elapsed until things took a nasty turn when Hasbro decided to send in the big guns. On Sunday, Yang was told by his neighbours that some creepy people were hanging around his apartment. He confronted them, one of whom called herself “Christine”. They wanted to tape the conversation. Yang told Crikey he was ” so taken aback/shocked by the ambushing technique that I talked to them.”

My neighbours were freaked out by the sight of the Baker & McKenzie ‘representatives’ lurking around our apartment building on a Sunday afternoon.  Apparently they’d been hanging around all day waiting for me! I’ve asked around and been told that the people were probably private investigators engaged by Bakers and not Baker & McKenzie themself but I don’t think that that lets Hasbro or the law firm off the hook — ultimately they are responsible for making sure that the tactics that they use are reasonable.”

He wrote back to Arnold that night, spelling out why he had got it wrong and schooling him again on the ways of the web:

From: Pocket
Sent: Sunday, 22 April 2012 11:01 PM
To: Arnold, Robert
Subject: Nerf

Dear Robert

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.

I’ve told your friend ‘Christine’  what I know but it was extremely rude to just show up on my doorstep and scare my neighbours like that.  Regarding Nitro and Rayven - I really wish that you’d been up front and mentioned the products in question in your first letter, it could have saved everyone a lot of time and Hasbro a lot of legal fees.

Regarding the “Vortex Nitron” and “Rayven”, these products are freely available for purchase online at this website: http://www.taobao.com/index_global.php.  I don’t have the listing details anymore, but if you search for Nerf stuff there, you should find it.  I realise that the products weren’t officially released yet but it’s not my fault they were on taobao and it’s pretty common to find promo stuff on taobao/ebay that the recipients have decided to sell online … I’ve showed your friend Christine the site but I really can’t be expected to teach people how to use an internet search engine.  You’ll also have to learn how to read Chinese.  I don’t read Chinese so I can’t help you there.

So — I really hope that that’s it.  As I keep telling you, my website is public and I receive a LOT of correspondence and most of it is anonymous.  As I have also told you, in future I will include URL links so that it’s clear to Hasbro where images came from but I really can’t go back and identify old information received - as you can appreciate, it is the internet - people rarely use real names unless you know someone in real life named spunkypineapplehead666 (that’s just a hypothetical example by the way).  I mean for all I know, spunkypineapplehead666 could be an 88 year old granny in Florida or even be someone like YOU given that it’s the internet.

The reason I didn’t see the point in talking to you is that:

1.  It seems wrong for Hasbro to have to spend more in legal fees just so that I can tell you again over the phone that I can’t help you because I don’t have the information you seek (apart from giving you the taobao link) when I’ve already told you this several times in email.

2.  I really don’t have the information you seek and I know that you probably don’t mean it that way, but I don’t think it’s right for a law firm to try to make me feel like I should be fabricating information just to bring this matter to a close.  I know I’m not a lawyer or anything but that just seems really wrong to me …  It also seems wrong to send strangers to my house without warning.  If I’d known you were going to show up like that, I’d have had a lawyer present for what would seem to many people to be unprofessional and intimidating conduct.

If it makes you happy, in future, if other people come to me trying to give me information, I’ll tell them to go away.  That being said, I also don’t think I am going to get any more leads on Nerf products, given everything that is happening so I am really a dead end in terms of your chain of investigation.

There really isn’t anything more I can do for you given that:

  1. the images have been taken down
  2. I will tell future people to go away (yes, I would rather tell them to go away rather than dob)
  3. I will attribute images in future
  4. I don’t have the information you seek
  5. I don’t see any problem with buying nerf products off of taobao or ebay.

Please don’t send people around anymore.  Your time would seriously be better spent looking up taobao and Google.

Regards

Yang has referred the exchange to the Office of the NSW Legal Services Commissioner and is seeking redress from Baker & McKenzie (read his email to the firm’s senior partners and the OLSC here).

Jasmine Clubb, a senior associate at Baker & McKenzie said she “can’t make any comment on that” and referred Crikey to the firm’s media relations area. Robert Arnold did not return calls but Annelise Cleary, a Baker & McKenzie corporate affairs manager, emailed later to tell Crikey that it’s “not appropriate to comment”. She did not respond to a follow-up email asking why the firm had come to that view.

Hasbro’s Gibson hung up on Crikey when we called her for comment, saying that “I’m not allowed to comment…I’m going to have to go” when asked whether the she had used the Pinpoint Sight offer to trick Yang into disclosing his address.

Meanwhile, Yang’s fondness for Hasbro products has dimmed. “I was very, very disappointed with Hasbro …  People are often surprised that my blog is all done for free and for the geeky love of Nerf and I had genuinely believed that I was not doing anything wrong by Hasbro given that my endorsements are for genuine products etc,” he told Crikey. “As a consumer and long-time fan, I felt that the far from up-front emails from Hasbro and their lawyers were very poor behaviour from such a large and sophisticated organisation.”

A boycott Hasbro campaign has now been set up on Facebook, attracting the opprobrium of Aloysius T. Dudefella, who wrote that he would now be avoiding Nerf guns forever.

Overnight the Wall Street-listed Hasbro announced disappointing corporate results, posting a first quarter loss on reduced US and Canadian sales. Its shares had declined 4.1% to $US34.46 as Crikey’s deadline approached.

19
  • 1
    Dave
    Posted Tuesday, 24 April 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Big law firms love the internet - because it creates so much work for them - but they really don’t understand it at all, do they?

  • 2
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Tuesday, 24 April 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Never mind boycotting Hasbro, we should all be boycotting lawyers.

  • 3
    Stuart Hodge
    Posted Tuesday, 24 April 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    That’s a damn shame, Urban Taggers is such a good site for Nerf stuff.

  • 4
    David Allen
    Posted Tuesday, 24 April 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Terrible article. Peter Slipper wasn’t even mentioned once! You’ll have to lift your game Crikey.

  • 5
    Meski
    Posted Tuesday, 24 April 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Here I was thinking nerf was a verb.

    from wiki:

    In video gaming a nerf is a change to a game that reduces the desirability or effectiveness of a particular game element. The term is also used as a verb for the act of making such a change.[1][2] The opposite of nerf is buff.

    I forsee Hasbro getting nerfed in the future.

  • 6
    Stuart Hodge
    Posted Tuesday, 24 April 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    @meski nerfing in video game terms is a reference to the guns/foam toys- it’s like replacing the in-game guns with their nerf equivalent

  • 7
    adam benecke
    Posted Tuesday, 24 April 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    you all have it wrong, Hasbro’s website says:
    GOVERNANCE AND ETHICS
    Our Approach
    For many decades, an ethical outlook and commitment to good governance has supported Hasbro’s growth and evolution into the trusted and successful global branded play company it is today. Taking a principled approach is good for business, igniting our creativity and connecting us to our customers and employees.
    Fostering an ethical culture is a core company value that requires daily effort. We work to embed this culture in our offices and facilities around the world through a comprehensive code of conduct and a rigorous ethics and compliance program. We also strive to comply with the highest legal and ethical standards.
    Our Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Board of Directors set the tone from the top for good corporate governance practices and upholding our ethical culture in support of creating long-term shareholder value.
    While we are proud of this history, we are now seeking to more actively engage the outside world in our corporate responsibility efforts. In 2010, we took a close look at how we could better report on and engage with external stakeholders on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability issues. One outcome was the establishment of a formal CSR practice directed by the CEO and headed by the Vice President of Corporate Responsibility and Government Affairs. Another was the decision to publish this comprehensive online report.

  • 8
    CHopper
    Posted Tuesday, 24 April 2012 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Hasbro is likely suffering from a problem of their own making. by contracting production of their toys to cheap, Chinese factories that pay workers so little, Hasbro are leaving themselves wide open to those staff willing to steal products and sell them on the Internet using Tao Bao. They should start their investigation and remedy at the source.

  • 9
    HaTeMaiL
    Posted Tuesday, 24 April 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Instead of seeing a rolled gold marketing opportunity, these corporate clowns send in the lawyers. Well, that’s a smart move isn’t it?

    As the Major booksellers, Toy makers, movie studios &tc squeal like stuck pigs that their overblown profits are in decline, they seem intent on shooting themselves in the foot.

    They should make it quicker, aim for your head guys so the new age of commerce can break free from the shackles of corporatisation.

    The sooner the better for all.

  • 10
    Andybob
    Posted Tuesday, 24 April 2012 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Oh no, the iron fist can be seen within the nerf glove.

  • 11
    AR
    Posted Tuesday, 24 April 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    NB anyone still so complacent as to think corporations are trying to rule the world aided, as are all would be dominators, by their bullying, when not forelock tugging, mercenaries.
    Who needs armies when Quislings and eager satraps are so cheap & amoral?

  • 12
    Sancho
    Posted Tuesday, 24 April 2012 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to Andrew Crook for spotlighting this.

    Issuing cease-and-desist letters and threatening legal action internationally is one thing, but in this case Hasbro has apparently given itself the right to run a sting investigation, then - and this is just ridiculous - hire a domestic goon squad to menace Yang and his neighbours.

    Take a moment to imagine how this would be reported if it were a larger corporation.

    Imagine that Fox or Disney was employing Australian snoops (with TAFE certificates - these people are professionals on par with lollipop ladies) to lurk around the homes of suspected copyright infringers and interrogate them in hallways while demanding to capture everything on tape.

    Maybe this will be the premise for an exciting new boardgame from Hasbro.

    Suburb Creepers: the real lives of people who hang around picking their nose for hours until they can ambush someone who runs a website as a hobby.

  • 13
    Michael de Angelos
    Posted Wednesday, 25 April 2012 at 1:30 am | Permalink

    Chopper is right. Outsourcing to third world countries with poverty wages where some employees are driven to suicide and these corporations wonder why their products end up for sale on a Bangkok street or on Ebay.

    They let this particular genie out the bottle. Tough.

  • 14
    Bachner Richard
    Posted Wednesday, 25 April 2012 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    This story is sick - it always amazes me when big companies go after their most avid fans. These lawyers invent targets to go after to profit when it really just damages their own company. In an age where everything gets spread online though, it doesn’t even make sense for Hasbro to do this. A lot of brands are very risk-adverse and want all of the benefits of social media without any potential downsides. I think that these companies need to take a different mentality with social. Most of the time, even when you make a mistake sometimes, that makes the company look more human. The key is to react to an incident as a human would, apologize, and use it to build up the rapport you have with your followers. Way too many companies think that social media is just about setting up a Facebook page, maybe using some ads or the types of companies at http://www.buyfacebookfansreviews.com to get more fans, and then boom - instant success. Social media doesn’t work like that. You have to develop your audience, offer them some content that they value, and listen to them. Then, if anything negative happens, you have some built-in trust. So that’s the approach that I think has to happen. But these lawyers are unfortunately dead set on lining their own pockets at the expense of their own brands.

  • 15
    FelineCyclist
    Posted Wednesday, 25 April 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Pocket may also wish to consider lodging a complaint with the Office of the Information Commissioner (federal). National Privacy Principles provide that companies are not supposed to use personal information (like a residential address) for purposes other than the purpose for which the information was collected (ie providing free samples rather than issuing legal letters and sending the goon squad around on a Sunday afternoon).

  • 16
    Glenn Brandham
    Posted Wednesday, 25 April 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Hasbro bought out The Avalon Hill Game Company back in the mid 1990’s and since then, the AHGC titles they inherited became cheap copies of the originals. They weren’t buying out the existing toy and game companies to improve on them, simply to exploit them…now they are being exploited.

  • 17
    Puzzled One
    Posted Wednesday, 25 April 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    A very unpleasant state of affairs all round. Given that the blogger in question didn’t seem to be dealing with counterfeit goods and complied with the first cease and desist letter from the attorneys, the behavior that followed looks a lot like bullying to me. I’m sure that there were other ways to ask for assistance but they obviously chose what they felt was the most ‘direct’ way even if it was inappropriate, pointless and ultimately counterproductive.

    My sincere sympathies are with the blogger and I am glad that the Internet is here now to give a voice to people who might not otherwise be heard when they’re basically being bullied by corporations and lawyers.

    Thanks Crikey for letting us know about this issue. It’s very unsettling but it’s important that people know about things like this.

  • 18
    Bretty
    Posted Wednesday, 25 April 2012 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Hasbro has just taken a nerf arrow to the knee.

  • 19
    Meski
    Posted Thursday, 26 April 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Or an arrow to a nerfed knee, more likely.

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