Do you own your own good name?  Or can someone take your name, your expertise in the field, and use it to sell t-shirts and postcards without your approval or knowledge?  My beloved wife Janna Sweenie and I write American Sign Language books together.  One of our bestsellers is “Hand Jive” — and that’s where this torrid story begins and ends.

If you are not yet setting up “Google Web Alerts” to help protect your name, projects, and online integrity, then you are allowing the deceitful and the unprecious among us to run rampant over the goodwill we work so hard to create and foster in the marketplace.

This morning I was met with this alert for Janna.  I won’t reveal the name of the seller’s website because that will only help them and continue to hurt us.  As you can see, someone is selling “Hand Jive Postcards” online and the keywords used to help increase sales include “Janna” and “Janna Sweenie” and “American Sign Language” and “ASL”…

When you click-through to the website, you are met with some ugly ass postcards that have nothing to do with Janna or ASL or our book or American Sign Language.

Click for more information, and you get an even wider selection of cheap junque with keywords directly connected to Janna and her work as an author and ASL expert:

This morning, Janna wrote a letter to the site hosting her name to sell trinkets and here’s part of her argument in asking that her name be removed from the selling site:

While there isn’t any direct stealing of our book content, there is a very obvious move on the part of the seller to connect my book with their sales profit based on the keyword searches and that is not right and I am asking you to take action.

We will let you know if Janna’s request to have her named removed from that sales site — from which she neither profits from or ever approved of — is granted or not.

While we wait for action, we are left to ponder the meaning of a name and if we own our name and its associations and the sole right to exploit it for profit.  Or do we only own our narrow reputations and never our proper names?  Can anyone take your name, and your projects, and associate them to foment online sales behind your back?

UPDATE:  You may read the rest of the story of what happened here:


  1. Atrocious, David! Our names our not there for people to steal and manipulate — particularly when we have distinct names like Gordon Davidescu — we are not the John Smiths that can be borrowed so easily as there are so many!

  2. Yes, it’s truly sickening, Gordon, and the fact that the site using Janna’s name is a major retailer for this sort of tchotchkes makes it even worse. We hope they’ll see our side and at least remove Janna’s name from the keyword search listing.

  3. Wow. This is really irritating…
    What do these people think – they can get away with it? I just don’t understand what’s the point of wasting so much energy – stealing someone’s name…then getting thrashed…then correcting…??!

  4. I don’t think they think they’ll get caught — and if they do — they’ll just remove the name and keep the money made. They’re rotten, scummy, people.

  5. Here’s the response from the hosting company:

    We provide an automated internet-based service to users, which they use to design and sell merchandise. We contractually prohibit our users from using the service to sell merchandise that infringes third party intellectual property rights (such as copyright, trademark, trade dress and right of publicity). We try to conduct our business in a manner that limits the instances where a user sells merchandise that may infringe the intellectual property rights of others. However, because the users design and sell merchandise through an automated service, we cannot assure that the merchandise sold may not, from time to time, infringe such rights.
    If you believe that your intellectual property rights have been infringed by a user of our service, please provide our Intellectual Property Rights Agent with a notification that contains the following information:
    1. A physical or electronic signature of a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the copyright or other rights that have been allegedly infringed.
    2. Identification of the copyright or other rights that have been allegedly infringed.
    3. The URL used in connection with the sale of the allegedly infringing merchandise.
    4. Your name, address, telephone number and email address.
    5. A statement that you have a good-faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the rights owner, its agent or the law.
    6. A statement that the information in the notification is accurate and, under penalty of perjury, that you are authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the copyright or other right that is allegedly infringed.

    So the infringer gets to keep selling while we are wrung through the wringer. So. WRONG!

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