By on April 30, 2011

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.

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26 Comments on “Toyota Blasts Brazilian Blogger...”

  • avatar

    Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean you should do it.

  • avatar

    From the whole document, the only relevant parts for us are items V(i) and V(ii) on page 3 which say, as reported by Bertel, that the site cannot talk anymore about Corolla S and about Toyota.

    I have no legal experience whatsoever but I would be very surprised if there is any chance of this being legally held.

    I would understand a judge ordering the site to take down the spy photos, but there is no way the site can be forbidden to talk about Toyota.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Bullshit. I see the Corolla S is traveling a public street. The visuals are now public domain.

    Is Toyota pissed they got caught out in public?

  • avatar

    Good spy photo shtick is an auto executive trying to cover up an interesting-looking Hyundai Elantra in mock horror. Bad spy photo shtick is a team of lawyers trying to cover up a warmed-over Corolla in mock litigation.

    Has Toyota really sunk this low?

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t believe Toyota’s this stupid. Yes, other nations have differing (bordering on degenerate) opinions on what is “protected speech”, but with the net, this is just plain dumb.

  • avatar

    Toyota by virtue of putting the car out in the public domain, where it can be photographed by autobloggytypes, has facilitated the publication… Can’t have it both ways Toyota… Maybe the legal dept. is becoming a new tool for helping to raise buzz about an essentially buzz-free product…

  • avatar

    Is the picture at the top the old Corolla or the new Corolla? Or the new Camry? Or is it the new Lexus Hybrid? Just wondering…

    Oh, and I won’t post any more questions about Corolla or Toyota in the future.

  • avatar

    Did anyone notice that the Brazilians still get rubber floor mats with their Toyota?

    Anyway, ham-handed, litigious bullying only draws attention to the original criticism.

    Toyota Racing Development definitely passed on having anything to do with the Corolla. That is unless a gussied up interior is what makes this a true sports sedan.

  • avatar

    Toyota at its best. Junk cars, junk people. In my way.

  • avatar

    A car is seen on a public road that perks interest enough for a photo that is published with some comments on the internet, also a public open domain. Toyota, who one assumes is intelligent enough to know there is nothing they can do, feigns shock and horror that someone dares do post public photos of their most important secret ever…
    Deduction, there is never anything wrong with a bit of media hype.
    Yawn! Moving on.

    • 0 avatar

      This is exactly what I meant when I commented on checking the law of the (foreign) land first. In certain jurisdictions, even a building in plain sight can be copyrighted as a work of art (and sometimes trademarked). Publishing pictures of said building can be a trademark violation – in that jurisdiction.

      Also, be careful with “public domain”. A car is not in the public domain. If you take a picture of that car, the picture is not in the public domain – you as the photographer own the copyright to that picture. Only when you put the image in the public domain it will be in the public domain. If you don’t do that, I have to wait until you die, and then 50 or more years thereafter, again depending on the jurisdiction.

      The minute a trademarked item (such as a company logo) is in the picture, we are entering the trademark twilight zone. Again, very much different from country to country, do not assume.

      If I would want to stop the publishing of pictures of my product (and become REALLY popular), I would take the trademark angle. Again depending on the jurisdiction, this could be a sharp weapon or just a big nuisance. However, defending yourself in copyright and trademark cases can be long and costly.

      • 0 avatar

        The internet has often been compared to a highway (information highway) for many good reasons so public roads and the internet are just simply public. If you want to keep a car secret don’t go parading it around on roads.
        I also failed to see the trademark, copy right symbol stamped on the car…
        So long as the media is not telling blatant lies I am all for freedom of the press here.

      • 0 avatar

        On the site you listed, it mentions that most times, using copyrighted material in a news article or review/critique is fine in most jurisdictions.

        Also your example of a building, in most countries, you can take photos of it and publish them.

        Where does Brazil fall in this? I would think they would be fine as this was a critique.

      • 0 avatar

        Welcome to Europe.

      • 0 avatar

        Not to sound to much like a smart ass, but Brazil isn’t in Europe (more specifically Belgium). Any specifics on Brazil? What does Brazil think about this being photographed and distributed in critiques?

  • avatar

    The solution to this is clear.
    ALL Brazilian auto blogs, (possibly all auto blogs world wide?) should comply with the order, and refuse to mention Toyota or Toyota products until Toyota apologize.
    Disgusting hypocrisy is hypocritical. And disgusting.

  • avatar

    Another error by the legal department…or maybe this is the only way Toy can get it noticed. Blogs ignoring Toy ought to be the way

  • avatar

    We are talking about Brazil here and from my recollection – Those that have the money make the laws. I’m sure Toyota do Brasil has a whole lot more money than some lowly blogger.

  • avatar

    Desperation to drum up fictitous excitement about a nonconsequential car much?

  • avatar

    What’s funny about this is that Toyota Argentina, during a press event they held when releasing the newly facelifted Corolla, confirmed that they are working on the Corolla S, which will be released as a limited edition model. And even funnier, that it’s already available in other markets, so it’s not that much of a surprise. And really, making that much of a deal because you’re getting ready for a Corolla with spoilers is stupid. Someone at Toyota must get a clue.

    BTW, Argentina Autoblog has no relation with Not that I know of.

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    I have a law degree from Brazil and am a member of the bar down there: this letter reads like a canned copyright letter produced by a legal assistant practicing Word while trying to fill her billable hours quota for the month before leaving the office for the extended Semana Santa holiday.

    It has no enforcing power and no legal foundation. There isn’t a judgment issued by a court and the ‘attorney’ has not bothered to state her bar registration #, which degrades the threat level of this shot across the bow to about the same level as of the Ovaltine label I was reading during breakfast.

    Legal crapalese like this is typical on a society that is joyfully forming lines to pay $40K+ to drive a Corolla. People in Brazil are tripping-out on their newfound sense of worth and importance unaware that they are victims of their own innocence, more now than ever.

    To take down your site because of such a letter shows as much stupidity as to line up at a Toyota dealer in Brazil to pay extra for red stitching and plastic add-ons secured by double-sided tape…

  • avatar

    I think a good follow up question would be…just how much control does Toyota have over their Brazilian operations? It’s quite possible that this letter was sent at the behest of a dealer group, or because one dealer group was having a hissy fit and was intimidating enough to force action out of a department. I don’t remember details but I recall their southern US dealers making some pretty poor publicity choices in the states here as well. Conversely, you don’t see Toyota US pulling a stunt like this, so I’d lean towards assuming it wasn’t entirely a top down operation.

  • avatar

    Toyota better hope Anonymous doesn’t catch wind of this or they’ll enjoy a barrage of DDoS attacks and lose their website.

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