I am working on a report to be released later this year on Amazon Kindle that recounts some of my earlier legal experiences and encounters with legal matters as a non-lawyer. One of the stories I have not told in many years is the moronic extortion letters to squelch speech sent to me by Bell, Boyd, & Lloyd on behalf of the very stupid and backwards Napoleon Hill Foundation in 2000 and 2002.
When I read the letters, it revives the anger, disgust, and contempt I have towards the Napoleon Hill Foundation. They are slime as far as I am concerned. And they were run by idiots who had no clue. Maybe it has changed in the last decade but I can say for certain they were fucking morons and so were their lawyers back in 2000-2003. I wasn’t quite as loud, obnoxious, or brilliant as I am now either. *sarcastic wink*. And I had more hair on my head too.
In any case, I cannot resist showing these idiotic letters that the Napoleon Hill Foundation lawyers wrote. I have preserved these letters for posterity (and great SEO content) to show how extortion letters were around back then trying to squelch people from talking about Napoleon Hill of “Think and Grow Rich” fame and “masterminds” on the Internet. Can you believe that? They were claiming that my discussion forum website and its discussions was causing online “confusion”. The only people who were fucking confused was the Napoleon Hill Foundation and their lawyers.
It was laughable. They tried to create an “online mastermind” and they had shit for conversations. It was so user-UNfriendly and there was barely anyone intelligent in there. Whereas my “MasterMind Forum” had some really smart, savvy people and there was really some great discussions happening. I had an instinct for certain things which they clearly didn’t. You have a bunch of employee-types sponging off of the legacy of a brilliant thinker and author.
I was so successful in building my “MasterMind Forums” (2000-2007) that business speakers and trainers paid me to host their very own discussion forums. Some of the early affiliate commissions weren’t too bad either. And none of it had to do with the Napoleon Hill name. That website ranked very high in the search engines of the time because I would target niche phrases. The Napoleon Hill Foundation hated that my website ranked so highly when we legitimately discussed the topic and listed book links to Amazon. They were “confused” about how to create their own online presence. They were confused that everything we listed and discussed was legitimate. If I knew back then what I know today, I would have taken a meaner and louder stance and gone public immediately. But I was too nice back then and communicated with them through snail-mail only. That was very dumb of me back then to be so quiet but I later wised up a couple years later and went public with some snark and I never heard from the Napoleon Hill Foundation and their law firm again.
Ultimately, people parted ways on MasterMind Forums and my heart wasn’t in it anymore so I pulled the plug in 2007. I found out that some of the people I was associating with back then had some sleazy tendencies and I figured it was best to end it. I learned a lot from some of the people I dealt with but I also saw some sleazy stuff I didn’t like. Boy, do I have some stories. Nevertheless, it was mostly a positive experience and a nice seven-year run. I met many smart people from all over the U.S. as well as Australia and New Zealand. I still consider many of the people I met friends today although we don’t connect as much today.
I now present one of the very first extortion letter exchanges I ever dealt with courtesy of the Napoleon Hill Foundation trying to squelch our legitimate speech. Today, the EFF and other tech bloggers would have a field day writing about them. The Streisand Effect wasn’t a “thing” back then because, according to Wikipedia, it wasn’t coined until 2005.
Napoleon Hill Foundation Lawyer Letter (October 16, 2000)
Dear Madam or Sir:
We are counsel to The Napoleon Hill Foundation (“The Foundation”), which owns the trademark NAPOLEON HILL, for which there are several federal trademark registrations. It has come to our client’s attention that you are using the mark NAPOLEON HILL in the text of your web site mastermindforum.com and in the source code for that web site. This suggests a relationship with or endorsement by The Foundation and your organization. Because this phrase is associated exclusively with The Foundation, and is a registered trademark, your use of it constitutes a violation of The Foundation’s trademark rights.
Please be advised that your use of The Foundation’s registered trademark constitutes trademark infringement, false designation of origin and unfair competition, in violation of state and federal law, including the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125 et. seq. You should also be advised that Section 1117 of the Lanham Act allows for an award of attorneys’ fees and treble damages to the prevailing party in the case of willful infringement. Accordingly, we demand that you immediately discontinue use of the mark NAPOLEON HILL and remove all references to NAPOLEON HILL from your web site and source code for your web site.
Your use of MASTERMIND increases the likelihood of consumer confusion, as the MASTERMIND concept was set forth by Napoleon Hill and has become identified with him in the minds of consumers. We therefore demand as well that you discontinue use of the term MASTERMIND on your web site, as the name of your “Forum” and “Resource Center” and otherwise.
Please respond by return mail, but in no event later than ten days from the date hereof, assuring us of your willingness to comply with the foregoing demand, or The Foundation will consider all appropriate avenues of relief, including litigation.
Very truly yours,
Sana Hakim, Esq.
BELL, BOYD & LLOYD
Matthew Chan Response Letter to Napoleon Hill Foundation Lawyer (November 2, 2000)
November 2, 2000
Ms. Sana Hakim
Bell, Boyd, & Lloyd LLC
3 First National Plaza
Chicago, IL 60602
Dear Ms. Hakim:
This letter is a formal response to the letter written by you on October 16, 2000 addressed to Intrepid Network Concepts, Inc. the current owner and operator of mastermindforum.com.
Before we address the specific issues outlined in the letter, we would like to take a moment to clarify the intention and purpose of MasterMind Forum(tm). It has never been the intention of our company to mislead the public or violate any trademarks.
The MasterMind Forum(tm)’s primary existence was and still is to provide Internet content of general public interest. Primarily, our strategy is the utilization of an open, interactive discussion forum where visitor participants are able to freely express ideas and thoughts in a positive manner within an electronic forum. Secondarily, we provide useful and meaningful content, information, and product that visitor/participants freely choose to consume or not. While the MasterMind Forum(tm) originally did form based on a small “niche” (being Napoleon Hill’s life, philosophies, and teachings), the MasterMind Forum(tm) has, in reality, extended beyond this basic premise to include business, real estate, books, investments, and other financial personalities.
Having stated the intention and purpose of MasterMind Forum(tm), we would like to acknowledge what seems to be your clients’ 3 underlying concerns.
- There is concern that the MasterMind Forum(tm) may somehow confuse the general public as to a possible relationship or endorsement with The Napoleon Hill Foundation.
- There is concern of our electronic usage of the name/term “Napoleon Hill”.
- There is concern of our electronic usage of the term “mastermind”.
Having stated the concerns, these are the responses:
- We respect the Napoleon Hill Foundation’s opinion that some public confusion could occur regarding the relationship and endorsement of MasterMind Forum by the Napoleon Hill Foundation. We believe this to be very unlikely. However, we haven taken steps to prominently display and announce a Legal Disclaimer specifically stating that there is no “official” business relationship, association, or endorsement by the Napoleon Hill Foundation.
- While the term/name “Napoleon Hill” may be trademarked, the use of it in print, electronic content, or “source code” is in itself not a “violation” as your letter claims. There are many famous companies and individuals whom have trademarked their names. Such examples include: the singer Madonna, sports star Michael Jordan, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, among others. But that does not mean the general press, writers, content providers, or the general public are automatically “violating” trademarks. The use of those trademarked names in print is legal, especially in the context of civil, open discussion, editorials, opinions, and Free Speech. Additionally, because the late Napoleon Hill was a public figure and famous author, he is a legitimate subject of public discussions like any other public figure. We believe that the Napoleon Hill Foundation’s attempt to “censor” us is quite inappropriate and reflects negatively on the organization. Because our usage of Napoleon Hill is descriptive and appropriate to the content, discussions, and context we provide, we will continue to refer and use the name/term “Napoleon Hill” as appropriate while respecting the disassociation of the Napoleon Hill Foundation.
- The term “mastermind” has many uses. While Napoleon Hill helped popularize the term “mastermind” and a specific usage and activity for it, he did not “create” the word “mastermind”, nor the concept of people getting together to discuss matters. Other synonyms to “mastermind” could be “committee”, “meeting”, “brainstorming”, “hearings”, among others. In fact, the term “mastermind”, in mainstream English, has become synonymous as a descriptor/adjective for the mind, mental/intellectual activity, and leadership roles. Webster’s New World Thesaurus lists “leader”, “expert”, “genius”, “administrator”, “philosopher”, “author”, and “supervise” as synonyms to mastermind. The Random House College Dictionary defines “mastermind” as “to plan and direct activities skillfully” and “a person who originates or is primarily responsible for the execution of a particular idea, project, or the like.” Further, a casual search of most Internet search engines will primarily list “mastermind” as the name of a board game requiring extensive mental/intellectual activity, not Napoleon Hill’s definition of “mastermind”. The website Mastermind.net is utilized by Mastermind Technology, Inc. The website Mastermind.com is utilized by Mastermind Consulting Services. Clearly, the term “mastermind” is in the public domain and that the implication the Napoleon Hill Foundation somehow “owns” the word/concept and causes confusion is inaccurate. Nevertheless, the aforementioned written disclaimer should alleviate any such possibility and modifications will be made to the existing text on the website to assist in this. Additionally, we have modified instances of “Mastermind Resource Center” to “MasterMind Forum Resource Center”. Similar to the case with the term/name “Napoleon Hill”, we will use the word/term “mastermind” as we deem appropriate while respecting the disassociation of the Napoleon Hill Foundation.
As part of the closing comments of this written response, it is evident that the Napoleon Hill Foundation has not done extensive due diligence on MasterMind Forum in the context of the rest of the Internet. While they think they are serving by “protecting” the name of “Napoleon Hill” and “mastermind”, they will only aggravate the situation by pursuing this adversarial course of action. Instead of promoting synergy and relationships, they are attempting to take a confrontational and proprietary approach.
It is our hope that this matter can be resolved with this letter and that the actions we have taken in “good faith” are sufficient to alleviate your client’s concerns. We understand that you are only representing your clients. We hope that you can better explain the “truth” of the situation and the weakness of their case of accusations and allegations. Any further legal action and correspondence can only result in producing negative publicity, costly legal fees, and disruptions for both parties.
Thank you for your careful consideration and attention to this matter.
Matthew Chan, Administrator
Intrepid Network Concepts, Inc.
P.S. Because of the loyal following MasterMind Forum, we have informed our readers of this dispute. We do not want to publicize this any more than we have to because it is somewhat demoralizing and certainly not in the true spirit of why MasterMind Forum was created. If your client finds this letter and our response satisfactory, we would appreciate receiving a faxed notification to XXXXXXXX of this so that we can quickly remove public messages concerning this unfortunate dispute. Thank you.
Napoleon Hill Foundation Lawyer Letter (August 9, 2002)
Following receipt of your November 2, 2000 letter concerning use of The Napoleon Hill Foundation’s trademarks, our client has monitored the changes to your site referenced in your letter. However, our client has determined that your response to its initial demands is inadequate to prevent confusion.
Your intent that MASTERMIND be understood descriptively is irrelevant. Under the trademark law, the test for infringement concerns the relevant consumer’s understanding, not the infringer’s intention. We enclose a posting from one of your Web site forums as just one example of how relevant consumers, namely, those interested in goods and services related to personal achievement and self-improvement, do associate the term MASTERMIND with Napoleon Hill. The posting also illustrates that the “legal disclaimer” on the Web site is inadequate insofar as it fails to keep confusion from arising in the first instance, a circumstance known in trademark law as “initial interest confusion,” a well-founded basis for trademark infringement liability. To avoid this possibility, you may choose to begin using one of the many alternatives discussed in your November 2 letter, such as “leader,” “expert,” or “genius.”
Contrary to your unfounded assertions, the trademark law does grant the Foundation the right to prevent others from using the Foundation’s trademarks for particular goods and services where such use is likely to confuse consumers as to their source or as to a possible affiliation between the user and the Foundation. We are confident that a likelihood of confusion is inevitable, especially where you prominently display “The Napoleon Hill Library” as one of only five links on your home page’s left-most frame, and where you specifically reference Napoleon Hill and THINK AND GROW RICH® as inspirations for your site.
Please be certain that the Foundation has no interest in discouraging discussion of Napoleon Hill, his MASTERMIND concept, or the Foundation. The Foundation’s reason for existence, in fact, is to perpetuate the teachings and ideas of Napoleon Hill, and public discussion of these teachings and ideas promotes this goal. The Foundation does, however, have every interest and right under the trademark law to prevent use of the Foundation’s trademarks in connection with goods and services related to personal achievement and self-improvement, where the use obviously creates a likelihood of confusion as to an association between a third party, such as “The MasterMind Forum”, and the Foundation.
Therefore, on behalf of The Napoleon Hill Foundation, we reiterate its demand that you immediately discontinue use of the marks NAPOLEON HILL and MASTERMIND as the name of your “Forum” and “Resource Center” and otherwise, and remove all references to NAPOLEON HILL and MASTERMIND from your Web site (other than in the context of online discussion of ideas) and source code for your Web site. Please be advised, once again, that Section 1117 of the Lanham Act allows for an award of attorneys’ fees and treble damages to the prevailing party in the case of willful infringement.
Please respond by assuring us of your willingness to comply with the foregoing demands, or The Foundation will consider all appropriate avenues of relief, including litigation.
Christopher I. Cedillo, Esq.
BELL, BOYD & LLOYD
Matthew Chan Response Letter to Napoleon Hill Foundation Lawyer (August 12, 2002)
August 12, 2002
Mr. Christopher I. Cedillo
Bell, Boyd, & Lloyd LLC
3 First National Plaza
Chicago, IL 60602
Dear Mr. Cedillo:
This letter is a response to the letter dated August 9, 2002.
It is unfortunate that once again, nearly two years later, that the Napoleon Hill Foundation has chosen to focus its efforts to undermine the online community and website known as the MasterMind Forums (MMF), managed by Intrepid Network Concepts, Inc.
It is apparent that more drastic measures need to be taken to fully appease your client. However, based on what I have read, it would seem that your client is well intent (for all practical purposes) in shutting down the MMF website.
Twice now, through your law firm, your client has threatened legal action and litigation against my company and the MMF website. Nearly two years ago, I attempted to be both civil and responsive to your client’s requests by making modifications while preserving the spirit of the website. I also included an explanation of how and why things transpired the way they did.
To this day, the Napoleon Hill Foundation has taken an antagonistic approach with the MMF website. Never once have I received a phone call or an email from anyone at the Napoleon Hill Foundation to attempt to resolve this amicably. Both times, they have chosen to utilize your law firm in an attempt to “bulldoze” my company and the website with little consideration of my side.
I have attempted to be civil and professional by refraining from publicly commenting too frequently about my negative feelings of the Napoleon Hill Foundation. With this letter, I am no longer inclined to restrain myself. It is clear to me with the second letter from your law firm that this problem will not go away easily or peacefully. Not only do we have a difference of professional opinions, your client’s intent is to use legal force. It has been stated in each letter I received.
That is their right to take legal actions but I will not sit idly by and let this be a one-sided argument or be “bulldozed”. Because the current “legal disclaimer” is insufficient for your client, I will be prominently posting copies of our letters to the Internet so that the online community will ABSOLUTELY not be “confused” that MMF is associated with the Napoleon Hill Foundation.
As a side comment, you may want to inform your clients that most of the members of our online community actually know the difference. The intelligence and caliber of our online audience is very high. I am sure many will take offense at your client’s claims that they will be “confused”.
And when they visit the MMF site, most come not to discuss Napoleon Hill or masterminds but business, investing, and financial topics. Of the 70 or so web pages and 20,000 online messages that comprise the entirety of MMF, very few pages actually have content relating to Napoleon Hill and masterminds within them. You stated that your client has “monitored” the MMF site and determined that my initial response was inadequate. I find that difficult to believe. I do not believe they have actually viewed even 5% of the content (1,000 pages and/or messages) that is part of MMF. If they had, they would realize that the discussion of Napoleon Hill and masterminds probably barely hit 1% (200 pages and/or messages) of all the content within MMF.
Regarding the attached print screen, it has been taken out of context because it is only one thread of discussion among hundreds and thousands. Exactly how is this harmful simply discussing it online? How is this isolated thread violating trademark laws?
Regarding the prominent display of “The Napoleon Hill Library” link, that link has primarily been a legacy link, a “leftover” from when MMF first launched. It was left there as a matter of convenience and simply not thought about. I find it rather ironic and amusing that your client would protest the very thing that my clients consider quite valuable, a high visibility and prominent positioning of their name. My clients pay to get the visibility from MMF. Inform your client that I have no problems whatsoever removing “The Napoleon Hill Library” link from such prominent positions. In fact, I am sure someone will appreciate it if I made that prominent position available to someone else. They will be happy to pay for what was initially provided to the Foundation for free!
Regarding The Napoleon Hill Library page, it will be renamed The Napoleon Hill Collection (consistent with other authors we spotlight) and it will be relegated to the lowest link positioning available, instead of the highest. It is quite a pity that your clients would prefer to have their visibility reduced instead of increased but I am happy to accommodate this. Again, my current clients will be pleased that their positioning will be improved as a result of this. I will continue to maintain “The Napoleon Hill Collection” with links to Amazon.com simply because the books are good for people to read. I will not make the mistake to draw too much attention to it.
Regarding the home page reference of Napoleon Hill and Think & Grow Rich as the partial inspirations of MMF, that was done in the spirit of giving a little credit to a deceased author out of respect as any respectable writer or author would do. However, I am happy to accommodate your client’s request and eliminate all references and credits to Napoleon Hill and “Think & Grow Rich” altogether. I am happy to take full credit for being the brainchild and having the inspiration within to create MMF. I would not want the Foundation to benefit unnecessarily from the visibility that MMF gives, especially if they don’t want it. Again, it is rather amusing to me that your client sees negatively what other people would consider flattering and complimentary.
Regarding the context of the word “mastermind”, I agree with your suggestion that the usage of the word on MMF should be changed. The word “mastermind” should reflect the synonyms of “leader”, “expert”, and the like. My current expert hosts are already “experts” and “leaders” in their field. Our online community already look to them for leadership and their expertise, not the deceased Napoleon Hill or the Foundation. They will appreciate their position as masterminds of their own online community. Additionally, as the primary host of MMF, I will be happy to take the mantle of the lead “mastermind” of the MMF site.
To summarize, please inform your clients of the following items that will be modified:
- There will be a much more prominent display and disclaimer that separates the Foundation and MMF. I will be prominently posting my letters online for the public to view. When they read these letters, it should once and for all alleviate any perceived “confusion” your clients believe is happening between MMF and the Foundation.
- All prominent Napoleon Hill Library links will be removed. We will no longer give free exposure and visibility to organizations that don’t want it. We will likely replace that link position with others.
- Any reference of inspiration and credit to Napoleon Hill and “Think & Grow Rich” will be happily expunged. Again, the free additional visibility is perceived as a detriment to the Foundation which I am happy to correct.
- We will happily continue to recontextualize the word “mastermind” with MMF to the meanings of “leader” and “expert”. Inform your clients that the transition had already occurred prior to your letter with the additions of several expert hosts. There are plans for more.
Short of closing down the MMF site, I believe I have met nearly every request submitted in a very reasonable manner. I am happy to do so and put additional distancing of MMF and the Foundation. I absolutely do not want to support the Foundation anymore. MMF will support others who are more appreciative and serve a broader audience without taking the elitist approach the Foundation seems to take.
As a side note, you may want to pass along some thoughts to your clients:
- “Why is it that the Napoleon Hill Foundation that has been around for years and allegedly own the rights to the Napoleon Hill name and mastermind does such a poor job on the Internet creating exposure for itself?”
- “Why is the Foundation’s own “mastermind online” of so poor quality and so little traffic?” It looks like a private club that few want to join.
- “Why is the Foundation so threatened by such a small grass-roots site that fundamentally supports their supposed mission?”
In conclusion, the way the Foundation has handled this continues to be a disgrace and disappointing. I have tried to give benefit of the doubt in the past. But it is clear to me, that is misplaced. Instead of working this out peacefully, they have chosen the most antagonistic approach possible: the legal system.
Without doubt, I look forward to putting this behind us. Your client can expect changes to begin immediately with completion within the next 45 days. Please be patient as modifications do take time. Thank you.
MasterMind Forums Disclaimer Page (2007)
August 13, 2004
I am happy to report that there has been no incidents with the Napoleon Hill Foundation since this public notice was placed here two yearsago. One day, I hope to remove this notice altogether to take away this stain of negativity on this front page. Unfortunately, we have to usethis very public and negative letter to make it ABSOLUTELY clear, we have nothing to do with the Napoleon Hill Foundation.
August 14, 2002
The Napoleon Hill Foundation, through its law firm, has contacted us through a certified letter. They have taken great objections to this sitemost notably the use of the terms “Napoleon Hill” and “mastermind”. They claim that they have “monitored” this site and the confusion it has caused regarding Napoleon Hill and masterminds. That must have been some feat (and near full-time job) for some employee at the Foundation since this site has over 60 web pages and 20,000 messages.(Heck, I can barely keep up with all the new messages.)My estimate is that only 1% of the content here (200 messages/web pages) probably falls into that claim. I wonder how many people were”confused” by that 1% of messages.There will be a redesign, re-creation, and rebirthing of this site. Apparently, they think that you, the reader, will be “confused” by this website that it is associated with the Napoleon Hill Foundation.Instead of trying to work in a friendly, synergistic way, they have chosen (since that first letter nearly two years ago) to take an antagonistic approach with this site. A courtesy email has never once been sent.They should be happy that changes within this site are underway. I would like to say more of what I think and tell more of the story. All will be revealed soon after I make “improvements” to MMF. But for now, I apologize to our community members in advance for possibledisruptions in service and content.Thank you for your continued support. And you can thank the Napoleon Hill Foundation for their “infinite wisdom” as keepers of the”Napoleon Hill” name. And no, they do not own the word “mastermind”. It is in every English dictionary.So MasterMind Forums will remain MasterMind Forums. We will simply transform ourselves into something better than what the Foundation has, a sleepy, boring and elitist website. But hey, it looks as good as a slick brochure.Stay tuned for more information and changes within MasterMind Forums!
Host of MasterMind Forums
In case it wasn’t immediately evidently, we are making the following statements and announcements because the Napoleon Hill Foundation appears to have a low view of the intelligence of you, the reader, that you might get”confused” with the content of this site. (Wait, I better say that is my opinion, otherwise, they may want to send me another letter for bad-mouthing them.)
The MasterMind Forum is in no way officially associated with or endorsed by The Napoleon Hill Foundation. The MasterMind Forum is operated and managed independently by a private company not associated with The Napoleon Hill Foundation. (After what I found about how they operate and their so-called business philosophy, they clearly have a thing or two to learn about business.)
The Napoleon Hill Foundation does not approve the use of the name “Napoleon Hill” used anywhere on this site.
Any use of the name “Napoleon Hill” and the discussion of Napoleon Hill is not associated with, nor endorsed by The Napoleon Hill Foundation. (Napoleon Hill was a public figure, famous author, and a legitimate topic of public discussion. We have a right to continue discussing what we want and expressing our views on Napoleon Hill, his books, and even the Napoleon Hill Foundation itself!)
The Napoleon Hill Foundation does not approve the use of the word “mastermind” anywhere on this site.
They claim the word “mastermind” may cause “consumer confusion”. Any use of the term “mastermind” and the discussion of masterminds is not associated with, nor endorsed by The Napoleon Hill Foundation. (“Mastermind” is a legitimate word in the public domain with several definitions and is listed in nearly all English dictionaries and thesauruses. In fact, there is a game of the same name. Perhaps, they need to contact the game makers also!)
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