The Brazilian autoblogosphere is up in arms because of an alleged censoring attempt by Toyota do Brasil. A month after the Brazilian blog Notícias Automotivas had run a piece on the upcoming Toyota Corolla S, they received a letter from Toyota do Brasil’s Legal Department. The Corolla S looks like not much more than a customized Corolla with red stitching on faux racing seats. The letter, dated April 29, 2011, looks scary.
We have received what we believe is a faithful translation of the letter from Brazilian Portuguese Legalese to English. The letter demands, within 24 hours of receipt, the takedown of the whole story, plus something unheard of:
Notícias Automotivas is being asked to no longer publish anything about Toyota whatsoever. The letter from Toyota’s Legal Department asks Notícias Automotivas to “refrain from publishing in any media any reference to Toyota or its products, whether they are marketed in Brazil or not.”
Say the Notícias Automotivas editors: “For example, if tomorrow this Corolla S is released, according to the language in the notifications, we can not even report that the model is being released.”
Suitably scared, Notícias Automotivas took down the pages. However, the pages remain accessible via Google cache. Welcome to the Internet.
This is not the first time something like this happened. In 2009, the Brazilian blog Irmaododecio had received a 25 pages letter from the legal dept. of Volkswagen do Brasil, demanding a takedown. A few days later, the matter was solved: Volkswagen told the blogger that it was an error by the legal dept. and Irmaododecio could go on and sin no more.
What is puzzling that pictures of an only slightly camouflaged Corolla S had appeared in March in Argentina’s Autoblog. Yesterday, Autoblog ran pictures of the new Corolla S in full frontal (and posterior) nudity. These pictures look more revealing than the close-ups of seats and steering wheels that ran in Notícias Automotivas. Autoblog Argentina says smugly that they “twice published spy photos of this model in March and last week.” They also write that they “did not receive any inquiries from the Japanese.”
I am not familiar with the legal situation in Brazil, and I urge everybody to become familiar with the law of the other land before making legal arguments. What is right in the U.S. can be wrong in Brazil and v.v. Or, see above, what works in Brazil may not work in Argentina.
The Toyota letter says that the publishing of the images “causes damage to Toyota do Brasil, in the sense that the disclosure of unauthorized photos completely destroys the novelty that is the prerequisite for launching a product to market.” Toyota claims damages stemming from the “release of photos at a time when the company invests into the marketing of the product Corolla S that will be released in early 2012.”
If Brazilian law allows that line of reasoning, then poor bloggers. Publish a spyshot, and if a product launch tanks, the blogger will be sued for damages. The Brazilian bloggers are up in arms. Just about each headline or blog posting about this story has “censorship” in it. This is a very loaded and sensitive word in Brazil. Brazil’s dark ages of dictatorship and censorship are still present in people’s memories. It won’t be good for a brand to be associated with the actions of Brazil’s military junta.
It would be good for Toyota to follow Volkswagen’s example and declare this a big misunderstanding. The pictures are out in the wild anyway, and each report (just like this one) draws attention to them. At the same time, the Brazilian government should revisit its laws and provide protection to the media.