Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

Backlash over silver fern ban on Twitter

Trade agency tells New Zealand user to remove silver fern logo from his account.

The  New Zealand Trade and Enterprise silver fern logo is protected as a trademark.
The New Zealand Trade and Enterprise silver fern logo is protected as a trademark.

Defiant Facebook users are putting a trademarked silver fern logo on their profiles after a government agency warned against using it on social media.

Last week, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) ordered an ex-pat Kiwi to stop using its silver fern logo on his Twitter profile, citing copyright infringement.

A story revealing NZTE's email to the Twitter user attracted hundreds of comments on the Facebook page - including one inciting others to use the logo on their own social media profiles.

Matt Williamson, who changed his Facebook picture to the NZTE fern logo, wrote: "Think everyone should use this fern as their display pics.''

His comment attracted close to 100 likes and apparently prompted at least 10 other people to change their own profile pictures to the logo.

Among them was Anthony McBride, who wrote: "Mwahahahaha. We'll see if they can get through to me.''

Tabitha Elizabeth May said: "Loving my new prof pic. NZTE x.''

Another Facebook user said he had seen 20 or so Twitter profile pic changes but there had been hundreds of Facebook profile pic changes.

"I know a handful of those that have changed are concerned around Intellectual Property laws in general, length of patents, trademarks and copyright although most of the people see it as an affront to their sense of nationhood and common ownership that any form of the silver fern can be claimed.''

NZTE earlier said its silver fern logo was a registered trademark "and we need to be able to protect it''.

"If we don't, we weaken our intellectual property rights, including the ability to enforce more serious commercially-based infringements,'' NZTE marketing director Nick Swallow said.

He acknowledged use by individuals was usually with "the best of intentions''.

"When we come across this, we get in touch to explain its status and why it is available only for licensed use. Generally we find individuals don't realise it is a registered trade mark and they are happy to comply.''

The Twitter user who sparked the controversy removed the logo following NZTE's request. He said he was surprised and amused NZTE had targeted him.

"Surely NZTE have bigger things to worry about than a Twitter user with 55 followers using a certain silver fern image,'' he said,

"As a New Zealander the silver fern is a symbol of who I am, and I shouldn't have to pick which version of the fern I use for my account.''


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