Pufferbelly Toys owner Stephanie Cox “was taken aback by a mysterious phone call from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to her small store in this quiet Columbia River town just north of Portland.”
Calls from law enforcement agents get noticed. Calls from organizations charged with securing America from terrorist threats get fretted over.
“I was shaking in my shoes,” Cox said of the September phone call. “My first thought was the government can shut your business down on a whim, in my opinion. If I’m closed even for a day that would cause undue stress.”
So her first reaction to the agent’s visit may have been releief:
When the two agents arrived at the store, the lead agent asked Cox whether she carried a toy called the Magic Cube, which he said was an illegal copy of the Rubik’s Cube, one of the most popular toys of all time.
He told her to remove the Magic Cube from her shelves, and he watched to make sure she complied.
Clearly, she then got curious about what had happened and why:
After the agents left, Cox called the manufacturer of the Magic Cube, the Toysmith Group, which is based in Auburn, Wash. A representative told her that Rubik’s Cube patent had expired, and the Magic Cube did not infringe on the rival toy’s trademark.
An agency representative to AP:
One of the things that our agency’s responsible for doing is protecting the integrity of the economy and our nation’s financial systems and obviously trademark infringement does have significant economic implications.
The agency aparently didn’t consider it important to require complainants in trademark issue to supply proof of ownership of the trademark prior to sending a pack of agents to batter down the doors of local merchants.
Six weeks after her brush with Homeland Security, Cox told The Oregonian she is still bewildered by the experience.
“Aren’t there any terrorists out there?” she said.
This story sounds spookily similar to the Bits of Freedom takedown experiment where nine out of ten ISPs blocked or deleted a public domain text at the request of a non-existant organization sending emails from Hotmail without asking for proof or informing the account-holder who’d posted the text. The difference is that ISPs are held to a lower standard of proof and process than government organizations, even those supposedly charged with securing America from terrorist threats.