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Business that hate fan sites may fan hate sites

Companies attempting to protect their trademarks on the Internet risk losing valuable information and alienating their most loyal customers, according to Steve Kopp.

“This is a fundamental intellectual property issue. If a company does not actively protect its trademark, it risks losing it,” explained Kopp, associate professor of marketing in the Sam M. Walton College of Business. “But there are a lot of ways to go about it. A company that goes straight to the legal cease-and-desist option risks losing its best customers.”

Many companies, uncertain of the best approach to take amid rapidly changing technologies, have relied on legal responses. The standard “cease-and-desist” approach can actually damage the company trademark and image, according to Kopp, who has identified several more effective strategies.

This is particularly true when applied to the more than 4,400 fan sites, which are developed by people who are enthusiastic about a particular product or company. Their opposite–hate sites–may be even more numerous. Almost every company and product has a detractor on the Internet. “There are hate sites for the Walt Disney Company, Barney the purple dinosaur, Macintosh computers, Chase Manhattan Bank, alternative rock music, ex-wives, ferrets, zucchini and the New York Yankees,” said Kopp.

While hate sites pose obvious problems, they can also provide opportunities. Many companies monitor their hate sites because they provide feedback about products that they may not find elsewhere.

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