Marines

Marine Trademark Office Quietly Joins Fight Against Online Misogyny

On March 16, the Marine Corps Trademark and Licensing Office received a tip about Disgruntled Decks, a "Cards Against Humanity"-style game filled with inside jokes and crass humor aimed at a military audience.

Its Marine Corps edition contained more than half-a-dozen cards using the term "wookie," a derogatory word for a female Marine, some of them with unprintable references to women's genitalia and bodily functions.

"Furry wooks with no-shave chits," reads one of the tamer ones, an apparent reference to female Marines with a lot of body hair.

Within 24 hours, the Trademark and Licensing Office had filed complaints with Facebook and Amazon, claiming Disgruntled Decks was using Marine Corps trademarks without permission.

Within another eight hours, Amazon was no longer offering the Marine deck for sale and Facebook had disabled certain commercial elements of the game's page, Jessica O'Haver, director of the office, told Military.com.

O'Haver said the office also sent a notice to the popular game Cards Against Humanity, on which Disgruntled Decks is modeled, to allow the company to protect its own trademarks if appropriate.

An attorney for Disgruntled Decks also responded, setting up a meeting with Corps officials for March 28. In the meantime, the Marine game continues to feature on the company's website, but the box has been altered to be more generic, reading simply "Corps Edition." The game is currently unavailable for sale, the site states.

A spokesperson for Disgruntled Decks confirmed to Military.com that the company's intellectual property attorney is set to meet with Marine officials next week. The company had no comment as the matter is ongoing, the spokesperson said.

As Marine leaders wage a public fight against online harassment and targeting of female troops by male Marines in the wake of reports that a Facebook Page, Marines United, has circulated nude and compromising images of women without their consent, the Trademark and Licensing Office is taking another tack.

"Hit them in the pocketbook," O'Haver said.

It's not a new role for the office. In 2013, when reports of abusive and misogynistic Facebook pages run by and for Marines received congressional attention, O'Haver said the office went after groups that used the Marine Corps name or logo to sell merchandise.

"When there's a group or a cause, any kind of online presence, and they start building their presence and their popularity, they start commercializing," she said.

Officials filed trademark infringement complaints against one group, Just The Tip of the Spear, getting its Facebook page taken down temporarily, and ultimately working with its clothing vendor to keep the group from selling Marine Corps-branded merchandise.

At best, it was a limited solution. The page continues to resurface despite shutdown attempts, and if the group's commercial aspirations were thwarted, its behavior was unchecked.

But as the Marine Corps struggles to determine how to appropriately discipline or prosecute troops for bad behavior online, trademark protection may provide an additional tool for the service to place a check on a culture that mocks and belittles women.

In the wake of reports about the Marines United Facebook group, O'Haver said her office wrote to all official Marine Corps licensees -- roughly 500 entities, 350 of them commercial -- warning them not to create any Marine Corps-branded merchandise on behalf of, or even alluding to, Marines United.

"We alerted them proactively," O'Haver said.

While the Trademark and Licensing Office will not necessarily scour the internet looking for merchandise that negatively portrays female Marines, O'Haver said it will take action if "disparaging and tarnishing-type products" are brought to its attention.

"If somebody is maximizing the profitability of Marine Corps trademarks in a negative way, we can address that," she said.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@HopeSeck.