I’m writing this out of pure disbelief. Back in November I received a threatening e-mail from someone in Vanguard’s legal department. I would gladly post the e-mail in its entirely, but they will probably sue me if I do since it contains a confidentiality statement. Nevertheless, I will describe enough of the e-mail so that other people can understand what is happening.
The e-mail basically stated that my website is displaying the Vanguard logo, which must be removed immediately due to their endorsement policy. The wording of the e-mail made it sound as though I had stolen the Vanguard logo and was displaying it as my official site logo on every page. It also made it sound as though I were purporting my website as being officially endorsed by Vanguard.
I had to scratch my head as to what in the world they were talking about. Why are they threatening me? I’ve never made any claim that my site is affiliated or associated with Vanguard, and I certainly don’t have their logo in my blog header or anything like that. And then I found it….
Back in March 2007, when I first started this website, I wrote a short post talking about transferring my Roth IRA from American Funds to Vanguard. You can see the post here. It was only the second post I had ever written, and it includes a little Vanguard logo as part of the post identifier. Even now, my site is hardly a blip on the radar compared to the big personal finance blogs, but it was completely obscure back then. So, this is why they decided to threaten me? This stupid little post?!
Even more confused and starting to get angry, I penned a reply to Vanguard’s legal department:
Yes, it’s true. I wrote a post on my site explaining how much I like Vanguard and about how I had just opened a portfolio there. I wrote that post on March 23, 2007, well over two years ago.
Are you trying to tell me that I can’t give FREE advertising to Vanguard? My use of the image was part of an endorsement post FOR Vanguard. I’m under no impression that Vanguard is endorsing my site. The article I wrote years ago has gone into my archives and is not displayed anywhere near the front page. My readers would have to dig pretty far to find it.
And now you’re sending me a threatening message asking me to remove my free advertising for you? Sure, I’ll be happy to comply. I’ll also be happy to transfer my entire portfolio to one of your competitors, such as Schwab or Fidelity. I’ll also be delighted to actively dissuade my readers from ever considering opening accounts with Vanguard because they attack bloggers simply for recommending them.
The ball is in your court.
A customer (for now)
Weeks went by and I never heard a response, nor did I delete the image, so I assumed that someone at Vanguard had simply made a mistake and that it wasn’t worth picking on lil’ ol’ bloggers like me. Weeks turned into months, and I completely forgot about the whole ordeal.
Until today. This morning I received a second threatening e-mail from the same person at Vanguard’s legal department. It was a follow-up from the previous correspondence since I had not resolved the issue to their satisfaction. This e-mail was even more forcefully worded, explaining that the Vanguard logo was a highly protected asset and that they will go to great lengths to protect it (obviously). If I try to resist, my puny website and I will be crushed by the towering might of their legal department.
Unbelievable. I’ve been a happy Vanguard customer for years, and because I wrote a post back in early 2007 promoting Vanguard and attached their logo to it, they’re willing to pursue legal action against me? With friends like that….
Naturally, I had to send a response:
Congratulations! Vanguard has forever lost a longtime customer! I will be transferring my accounts to Schwab immediately. Not only that, I will do everything in my power to dissuade other people from ever depositing a single penny in a Vanguard fund.
You make it sound like I’ve been using the Vanguard logo as my personal logo. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I put a low-resolution copy of the logo as an identifier in my post PROMOTING Vanguard. That was only the second post I had ever written for my site, and it quickly disappeared into the archives, so I suspect only two or three other people have ever seen it. I will remove it, but Vanguard has now gained a lifelong enemy.
So this is what you do with your time at Vanguard? You search the Web for small-time personal finance bloggers and attack them for daring to promote your company? Pitiful. Since you seem to enjoy it so much, here’s some more fodder for you:
I doubt I will receive a response, unless they actually decide to sue me. This entire situation is asinine, and I offer my deepest apologies to the owners of the above sites if it actually causes the wrath of Vanguard to come down on you! I just did a quick Google search for their logo and those were the first four that I found.
As for me, I don’t have the resources to fight their legal department, so I’ll delete their image from my server. Eventually. In the meantime, I’ve already opened a Roth IRA at Schwab and will start the account transfer process from Vanguard later tonight. It’s really a shame because I’ve been happy with Vanguard, but I now retract anything nice I’ve ever said about them. Any company that goes to this length to attack individuals for writing a promotional post doesn’t deserve my business, nor anyone else’s.
So, if you have a personal finance blog and you’ve ever used the Vanguard logo as part of a post, watch out! The Vanguard legal department shark is cruising the Web, smelling blood, and will mercilessly attack you if they find you.