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                                      Published: Wednesday, May 30, 2001 
                                                                         
Spam cans slang fight

   LESLIE BROOKS SUZUKAMO STAFF WRITER
   Hormel Foods, maker of Spam luncheon meat, has long winced when people
   have used the word spam to describe the junk e-mail that clogs their
   electronic mailboxes.
   
   But in a surrender to the combined power of popular culture and the
   Internet, it no longer is fighting as aggressively to stamp out the
   derogatory use of the term spam.
   
   In its online policy statement, the Austin, Minn., company says it
   does not object to people using the slang term spam as a synonym for
   unsolicited commercial e-mail -- those annoying e-messages that
   advertise everything from Viagra and penis enlargement surgery to
   surefire ways to make "$$$" from your home.
   
   The company only asks that people writing specifically about its
   famous pink, compressed pork product in a square blue can follow some
   trademark guidelines, such as putting the name Spam in all capital
   letters. They'd also prefer if people add the term "luncheon meat" or
   some other descriptive word or phrase since a trademark like Spam is
   supposed to be an adjective, not a noun.
   
   The company's policy is about a year old but was not publicized until
   this past weekend, when news about it appeared online on the news
   service Wired.com in connection with a San Francisco convention on
   junk e-mail called Spamcon.
   
   The association of the word spam with junk e-mail itself comes from
   the old Monty Python TV show during a comedy routine in which a group
   of Vikings sang a chorus of "Spam, spam, spam, spam..." increasingly
   louder to drown out all other conversation. Internet users picked up
   the word to describe the commercial e-mail flooding their mailboxes
   and overloading their computer servers, in essence drowning out other
   conversation in cyberspace.
   
   Hormel in the past has threatened legal action to protect its
   trademark. In 1997, it sent a cease-and-desist letter to the king of
   spammers, Wallace Sanford, to stop him from using the term spam to
   describe his business and also his registration of the Web site
   spamford.com.
   
   But Sanford's lawyer replied the word spam was "ubiquitous in
   cyberspace" and not a copyright infringement.
   
   Now Hormel says the slang spam won't weaken its trademark grip.
   Federal courts have ruled that other slang, like "Star Wars" to
   describe the proposed Strategic Defense Initiative, did not violate
   the trademark for the famous movie series owned by George Lucas and
   his LucasFilms production company, Hormel notes.
   
   Yet companies often find themselves obligated to defend their brand
   names with vigorous court actions that might seem extreme. Otherwise,
   others can usurp the name and cite instances where a company seemed
   uninterested in holding on to it.
   
   "Next to your employees and your physical assets, what holds the most
   value for a company is your brand," said Hormel spokeswoman Julie
   Craven. "And part of your responsibility is to protect that and make
   sure it's used correctly and consistently."
   
   Spam, the e-mail kind, also is on the legislative menu on Capitol Hill
   again this year, with a House bill that would allow people to sue
   spammers making its way through Congress. The bill, authored by Rep.
   Heather Wilson, a New Mexico Republican, and Rep. Gene Green, a Texas
   Democrat, passed the House last year by a vote of 427-1 but died when
   the Senate took no action last year. This year it is encountering more
   legislative resistance and its fate is uncertain.
   
   Knowing how unloved spam is, Hormel stresses it never spams anyone,
   especially from its spam.com Web site.
   
   "We oppose the act of "spamming' or sending unsolicited commercial
   e-mail (UCE)," the company says on its Web site. "If you have been one
   of those who has received UCE with a return address using our Web site
   address of SPAM.com, it wasn't us."
   
   Perhaps the key difference to remember between Hormel's Spam and the
   other spam is this:
   
   One you eat. The other you delete.
   
Leslie Brooks Suzukamo can be reached at lsuzukamo@pioneerpress.com or (651)
228-5475.

   
   
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