Dear colleagues and friends,
Here is a short overview about what has been going on behind the scenes between the Facebook group “International Suzuki Teachers EXchange” (ISTEX) and the International Suzuki Association (ISA) during the last two weeks.
Up to January 11th, 2017, the ISTEX-Group in Facebook, a group with 5,694 very active members at last count, was an incredibly productive group of excited and dedicated Suzuki teachers, whose sole purpose in participating in the discussion forum was the free exchange of musical and teaching ideas. Founded in 2013, the group grew within 3-and-a-half years to become the largest and most active Facebook group for Suzuki teachers worldwide.
When we tried to visit our group on January 11th, 2017, we received the following information. Here are two screen shots:
Unfortunately, Facebook’s policy is such that they simply block the page on the sole basis of a CLAIM of abuse. According to Facebook’s rules, we are solely responsible for contacting the claiming party. To be clear, the ISA, who claimed abuse, is under no legal obligation, as far as Facebook’s terms and conditions go, to answer any attempt we make to contact them.
The only way Facebook would re-open the group is if they receive an explicit written declaration from the ISA that the issue has been resolved and that they officially take back their complaint. Whether the claim is warranted or unwarranted is, unfortunately, a question which does not interest Facebook.
We immediately took the following steps:
- We asked for legal advice. Our lawyer and specialist for international trademark rights explained that in this Facebook group, ISA’s trademark rights have not been infringed because our group was not used for business purposes. We were only exchanging teaching ideas and private documents authored by our members, such as articles, sheet music, compositions and videos. Therefore, the law is very clearly on our side. We have ample documentation to support this view.
- Our lawyer wrote to ISA’s lawyer asking on which legal grounds they deem to be entitled to prohibit the use of a public Facebook group called “INTERNATIONAL SUZUKI TEACHERS EXCHANGE”. Until today, we have no response. This is no ground for concern, though. Since this type of communication must go through official channels, it can take some time.
- On January 12th, 2017, we founded a new Facebook group — the “International Music Teachers Exchange” (IMTEX). This way we can continue on with this unique forum of a world-wide exchange of teaching ideas until we are able to settle the issue legally with ISA. Today, after 12 days, this new group already has 3,650 members.
Many members are very upset and angry and feel that ISA has blocked their ideas and intellectual property. Here is just one example from the hundreds of messages and emails we received from our members:
“I have read comments and searched for teaching aids on the ISTEX Facebook site for at least two years and have found it INVALUABLE in my work teaching children and adults. Thousands of contributors over several years have made the group an archive of wonderful shared information that I can’t bear to lose! …”
In the announcement from January 18th, 2017, the ISA Board wrote several statements which were clearly not true. Here is just one example:
“The ISA had contacted the administrator of the site previously about this issue several times, but received no reply.”
This is absolutely not true. We can easily provide proof of this because we have a documented exchange of letters and emails with Mr. Razzano, the lawyer of ISA, and with the late Gilda Barston, the former CEO of ISA, over the last 14 months.
More official discussions are in process as we write this, but these take time because we must clarify everything with our own legal experts before we make any official statements. ISA also needs their own time to think about the issues before they respond to us directly. They were quick to make a public announcement on their website, but that announcement had to be revised twice already in order to correct false statements. Unfortunately, they have neither documented their own changes, nor have they made any notice about their corrections of previously published false statements.
The fact that we have taken some time to make a public statement about this dispute is based on the following: we prefer not to engage in a public battle based on opinions and claims, but to keep to facts that have been decided in legal venues. We realize that all of you want and need information, and we promise to keep you informed about further developments and results of this dispute, but we cannot comment any further until we have heard from ISA or from ISA’s legal representatives.
We welcome your thoughts on this issue.
Please type your comments in the “Ihr Kommentar” box below.
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We would like to close with the words, which Kerstin Wartberg wrote to Mr. Razzano, the lawyer of ISA, on November 11th, 2015:
“… it would be in the interest of all parties, if we could manage to create an atmosphere of professional relationship.”
and to Gilda Barston on March 4th, 2016:
“… we clearly indicate our willingness to collaborate with the ISA.”
Let’s hope for a positive common outcome in order “to encourage, promote, enlarge, and coordinate the Suzuki Method throughout the world.”
Kerstin Wartberg and David Andruss
Administrators of the ISTEX Facebook group