Facebook claims to own the word “book”

by | Oct 14, 2016 | Finance, Tax

There’s no flies on Facebook. This is a company which reckons it is so wonderful that it owns the worldwide intellectual property rights to the word “book”.

Sydney businessman John Maconochie has been in a barney with lawyers for the social networking site since May this year after establishing the business marque “medibook”. No matter that Maconochie’s business is preoccupied with recording patients’ medical files, rather than social networking. No matter that the word “book” is one of the world’s most common words, Facebook believes it has the suffix well and truly trademarked and nobody else is entitled to use it.

Bewildered at the hide of Facebook, we inquired of the company whether it would have any objection to our establishing the trade-name “Assbook”. Alas a response is yet to be forthcoming. How about TaxDodgeBook, we asked? No reply either.

It is not unusual for big companies to sool their lawyers onto start-ups when there is a vague resemblance in branding.

When single mother Sara Park set up her company Centurion Deals in 2012, along bobbed American Express and its lawyers with a menacing legal letter claiming she had infringed their intellectual property rights. She was guilty of “passing off” an Amex product.

When ‘big law’ turns to bullying

Amex, which we later discovered had not paid tax in this country for eight years, had a credit card called Centurion. Park was in the business of selling beauty products and getaways, not credit cards but Amex had a credit card called Centurion and apparently felt threatened.

It is de rigeur for multinational companies to sool their lawyers onto miniscule businesses which don’t even operate in the same field but in Facebook’s case it is fair to say that here is a company which barely deserves a social licence to operate. Like its giant US digital peers it barely pays tax.

It even conned the corporate regulator, Australian Securities & Investments Commission, into thinking it was a small company so it could hide its financial statements.

Notwithstanding its $US10 billion market value at the time, its omnipresence across the nations of Planet Earth and its millions of customers, shareholders and staff, Facebook managed to jag this special exemption from the corporate watchpoodle:

”384 Notification of Resol. By Directors of a Small Pty Company Controlled By a Foreign Coy Which is Not Part of Large Group.”

So it was that ASIC literally changed the laws of the land and the tech giant got away without having to stump up its accounts (and therefore reveal just how much income tax it was shirking.

Laws of the land make Facebook fantasies come true

When it comes to claiming it is the only thing which can be a book, Facebook has form. It has shut down tiny operators in the US such at Petbook and Teachbook, and it hauled Designbook through the courts for trademark infringement.

As John Maconochie notes however, Facebook shies away from taking on big offenders such as Apple with its “Facetime” service while opposing a small operation called Facemash. It is a bully, he says.

Herein lies an elegant irony. Maconochie was the bloke who sued the National Australia Bank for $30 billion in a case which languished in the courts for a decade. The NAB’s lawyers claimed Maconochie was “bullying” the bank.

The more fundamental issue in all of this is the inexorable and unfettered rise of private power and the enfeebling of governments. That a multinational tax cheat such as Facebook can operate in this country with no accountability (merrily dodging tax and cajoling relief from filing financial statements) while at the same time enjoying a thriving business here – using our roads, water, court system et al – is not good enough.

The cherry on the top of this corporate welfare cake is that Facebook no doubt claims its legal fees for shutting down small business aspirations as tax deductible. And if John Maconochie persists and Facebook takes him to court, we the taxpayers will foot the bill for Facebook’s court proceedings.


Michael West

Michael West

Michael West established michaelwest.com.au to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences. You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelWestBiz.


  1. Avatar

    I will share this story in FB. Let’s see if it stays or gets removed.

    • Avatar

      me too

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