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
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.
Yang, who goes by the online handle ‘Pocket’, replied positively, and was keen to launch a giveaway for his legion of fans:
Sent: Thursday, 15 March 2012 3:06 PM
To: Gibson, Leigh
Subject: Re: The Nerf Pinpoint Sight
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?
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”
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.
But the Pinpoint Sights never arrived. Instead, six days later, Yang was sent athreatening 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
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.
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:
Sent: Sunday, 22 April 2012 11:01 PM
To: Arnold, 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:
the images have been taken down
I will tell future people to go away (yes, I would rather tell them to go away rather than dob)
I will attribute images in future
I don’t have the information you seek
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.
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.