Arm wrestles assembly language guru's domains away citing trademark issues
Maria Markstedter spent years writing about chip biz's ISA, is a tad miffed by heavy-handed takedown tactics
If you fancy creating a blog or website to discuss the Arm architecture or the Softbank-owned outfit that develops it, keep the British CPU designer's name out of the domain name you choose – or draw the wrath of its lawyers.
The Register offers that advice after Maria Markstedter – a noted author, assembly language expert, and security researcher who's written extensively about Arm at the websites she operates – received a cease-and-desist demand from Arm's lawyers. Her offense? According to the letter she shared on Xitter, using the trademark "Arm" in the domain name
arm-assembly.com that she used to promote a book she wrote about the ISA.
Strictly speaking, the letter went to the web host provider for her Arm-related websites, who passed it onto Markstedter to handle. The missive demanded that the dot-com website come down as it featured Arm's "Arm" trademark in the domain name.
"The website operated under the domain name arm-assembly.com ... is using Arm IPR in the domain name," the legal letter stated. "The domain name incorporates the famous Arm Ltd mark and suggests an association with the famous Arm Ltd brand and/or Arm Ltd sponsorship or endorsement of this website."
Yes, there is a need for trademark holders, like Arm, to assert their ownership and rights and protect their marks. Still, the order came as a shock to Markstedter, given her close relationship with the design house stretches back six years.
"I first thought this must've been a misunderstanding given my previous relationship with Arm," she told The Register last night.
"I wrote my thesis about Arm security features and exploit mitigations for Arm's internal use, [have] given internal presentations, keynoted their conference, advocated for them, visited them at their HQ in Cambridge – all without compensation because I wanted this to be a mutually beneficial relationship instead of a gig."
Markstedter, who runs the Arm programming training'n'tutorial outfit Azeria Labs, therefore asked Arm what all the fuss was about – only to meet radio silence. Then, on Monday, blogs and websites owned and operated by Markstedter were taken down by her hosting provider after it received another cease and desist letter. These websites included:
Markstedter told us the sites offered educational resources, courses on reverse-engineering Arm code, and promotions for her latest book.
Azeria-Labs.com was taken down despite not including "Arm" in its name – the cease and desist order Arm sent to Markstedter's hosting provider identified her sites by a single IP address they all shared, which led to the provider tearing down everything.
The labs dotcom, and its catalog of tutorials covering Arm assembly and exploit mitigation, is now back online.
"In order to get my site back ASAP, I yielded and transferred my domains to them, and Azeria Labs got unblocked," Markstedter told us.
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This resolution did involve transferring ownership of four of the domains containing the offending "Arm" trademark to Arm.
"At the very least, I expected a simple heads-up or direct contact from them acknowledging the unfortunate necessity of their actions and asking for input on possible resolutions," Markstedter said.
At the very least, I expected a simple heads-up or direct contact from them acknowledging the unfortunate necessity of their actions
"Yet I have only been contacted by their lawyers, and despite bringing this matter to their attention, I have yet to receive an official email from Arm attempting to address and resolve the issue or apologize."
In the wake of the takedown, Markstedter registered leg-assembly.com to promote her book and plans to spin up additional body-part-related domains to provide additional resources on the Arm instruction set architectures.
"My disappointment with Arm's actions doesn't mean I've got any hard feelings towards the amazing folks working at Arm. They've been a huge support over the years, and I genuinely appreciate that," she emphasized. "The frustration is more about the decision-making from the higher-ups and legal teams that led to this domain issue."
Litigate or lose it?
The Register asked Arm to comment on the cease-and-desist order, and its representatives told us it had nothing to say. Then as we were preparing to publish this article, the chip designer came back and said its actions were necessary to protect its Arm brand.
"We value the contributions that our developer and researcher community make to the Arm ecosystem and are committed to continuing to work with them as collaboratively and constructively as possible," a spokesperson told The Register.
We recognize that this activity is sometimes met with frustration and are actively working to find a solution that works for all parties involved
"At the same time, we have a duty to protect the Arm brand, which has been built over more than 30 years. Like all companies with registered trademarks, Arm is legally obligated to ensure those trademarks are protected and used appropriately. We recognize that this activity is sometimes met with frustration and are actively working to find a solution that works for all parties involved."
However, Markstedter told us that, apart from Arm's legal team, she hasn't received a single email from the firm itself that discusses finding a mutual solution. Markstedter said she had suggested Arm could donate her book to universities and persons who couldn't afford them, but had yet to receive any feedback on the proposal.
Arm's rush to snatch up domain names is somewhat ironic, considering that in 2018 the biz created the website
riscv-basics.com and used it to host content smearing rival RISC-V architecture and list multiple reasons why Arm's tech is superior. Arm pulled the dot-com after an internal revolt by its staff, and the domain has since lapsed into someone else's hands.
Arm's takedown comes just a week after the Neoverse designer officially filed for an IPO on the US Nasdaq. In the filing, Arm disclosed numerous risk factors, including many related to its operations in China. However, we don't recall any mention of experts writing tutorials about its ISA as something Arm thinks investors need to worry about.
That said, it did warn: "We primarily rely on patent, copyright, trade secret and trademark laws, trade secret protection and contractual protections ... to protect our IP rights.
"The steps we take to protect our IP rights may be inadequate."
Some may well agree with that. ®