Tag Archives: Free Expression

War Is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength

Originally posted 2007-03-28 19:08:24. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

And free speech is a form of negotiable intellectual property, right?

Maybe I can give up the blog. There is no percentage in clever commentary when the claimants provide the self-parody.  Credit to Instapundit.

“Criticizing A Trademark Is Not Trademark Infringement”

Originally posted 2007-09-29 21:25:32. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

It’s free speech. This is a big step forward:

In a recent example of just how bizarre [trademark overreaching] has become, there was apparently a dispute over the trademark of the word “Freecycle” that’s been used by groups who promote reusing stuff that would otherwise be thrown out. There was an attempt to [register a] trademark [utilizing] the term, but not everyone was happy about it. One guy put up a website protesting the idea to [register] the term, and he got sued for trademark violations in using the mark in his criticism. Clearly, that’s way beyond the consumer protection purposes of trademark — but a district court actually agreed with the trademark holders, saying that the guy violated trademark law in “disparaging” the trademark. Luckily, the [9]th Circuit appeals court has now overturned the ruling, noting that there is little to no chance of confusion here over the mark. More importantly, the court pointed out that there is no such law against “disparaging” a trademark. That’s a good thing, too, or pretty much all criticism would be outlawed.

Thank you, Ninth Circuit. What’s astonishing, depressing and pathetic is that the mark owners won at the trial level. That’s the level at which small- and medium-sized business and individuals get slaughtered every day.

More here on this story.

Mourning Sonny

Originally posted 2009-01-01 16:58:41. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Posted on November 17th, 2008:

No, not that Sonny. No, rather this: If America’s most famous variety-show-star-turned-congressman hadn’t slammed into that tree on that fatal day of downhill skiing, we’d probably never have the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. That’s reason to mourn him right there.

Fair enough — if he’d sat in the lodge and drank cocoa instead we would probably still have the law, but at least its embarrassing content would not be matched with a preposterous name. But given that it is what it is, ten years later, what is it? Gigi Sohn says well:

How can you measure the number of new works and new wealth that were not created because of the extended terms? Or the number of new orphan works created? But since it has been shown that about 98% of copyrighted works lose their value between year 55 and year 75 of protection, we know who has profited from the law – large, multinational media companies like Disney, Fox and NBC-Universal, who maintain a vise-like grip on works that should have belonged to the public years ago. Suffice it to say that the Sonny Bono Act was nothing more than corporate welfare for big copyright holders. . . .

Ok, I got that off my chest. Now let me say something positive about both the DMCA and the Sonny Bono Act. The simultaneous passage of these two copyright strengthening bills, despite the strenuous objections of libraries, arts and cultural organizations, consumer electronics companies, and cyberliberties groups clearly hit a nerve, and became the impetus behind the copyright reform movement. . .

[W]hile we’ve stopped many bad things from happening, we have not yet been able to get any law or policy adopted that would bring some balance (or sanity) back to copyright law.

Read it! Hat tip to Denise Howell, via Twitter.

Comment here.

SUPER HERO® my foot

Originally posted 2006-03-27 16:08:22. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

UPDATE: Our NPR interview on this topic was on NPR’s “All Things Considered” just before 6 tonight.

We blogged on this topic last week. Today the LA Times weighs in, writing, confusingly:

TICKETS TO THE California Science Center’s latest exhibit, “Marvel Super Heroes Science Exhibition,” sell for $6.75 and up. But there’s one lesson the exhibition offers free of charge to anyone who wanders by the museum, and it’s not about science.

The lesson is in the giant sign looming over the center’s entrance archway: “Marvel ® Super Heroes(TM) Science Exhibition.” The “TM” stands for trademark, signifying that Marvel is claiming exclusive rights to use the term “super hero” as a marketing term for, well, superheroes. The company and its largest competitor, DC Comics, jointly obtained the trademark from the federal Patent and Trademark Office in 1981.

The government’s action means that any company wishing to market a comic book, graphic novel or related item with any variation of “super hero” in the name or title must get permission from Marvel and DC. Dan Taylor, the Costa Mesa-based creator of the “Super Hero Happy Hour” comic, learned about this absurdity two years ago when he was contacted by lawyers for Marvel and DC, prompting him to rename his series to the more pedestrian “Hero Happy Hour.”

What government action? What happened in 1981? (See below — someone else found the answer.) Nor does a claim of a valid registration make any sense in light of the claim in the editorial that the sign says:

Marvel ® Super Heroes(TM) Science Exhibition

If SUPER HEROES were a bona fide registered mark, it should say “Marvel ® Super Heroes ®,” not “Super Heroes(TM).” “TM” signifies the assertion of common-law trademark rights — not a registered mark and, as a practical matter, that a mark was either refused registration or that legal counsel advised against seeking registration (because the refusal would harm a future common law claim).The editorial argues that SUPER HEROES is a generic term not entitled to any trademark protection, which is correct. Genericness is the only way to defend against a registered and incontestible trademark, which presumably one registered in 1981 would be.

Even if it were true that two competing companies could own a trademark jointly in an area where they compete — thereby violating the axiom that trademarks indicate a single source of a good or service with which they are used — they seem to be succesfully avoiding the issue of their absurd joint registration, even as their giant signs claim only a “TM” common-law mark.

I guess that’s some super-heroic PR / legal spin job by the comic book fiends, but why journalists aren’t “getting this” — or why I [couldn’t] for the life of me find the source that does indicate a registration — leaves me pretty confused at the very unlikelihood of it all.

UPDATE: Attorney Robert J. Sinnema points me to registration number 1179067:

SUPER HEROES (“PUBLICATIONS, PARTICULARLY COMIC BOOKS AND MAGAZINES AND STORIES IN ILLUSTRATED FORM [(( ; CARDBOARD STAND-UP FIGURES; PLAYING CARDS; PAPER IRON-ON TRANSFER; ERASERS; PENCIL SHARPENERS; PENCILS; GLUE FOR OFFICE AND HOME USE, SUCH AS IS SOLD AS STATIONERY SUPPLY;] NOTEBOOKS AND STAMP ALBUMS )).

He adds:

If you look at the owner/assignment information it appears to show joint ownership between DC and Marvel. (I’m with you, though–I don’t know how the mark can be a valid indicator of source.)

And why the plural? Believe me, there’s a reason for everything, including the companies’ continued non-use of the ®. They simply don’t want to draw attention to preposterous joint ownership (again — by competitors!) of the registration of a generic term. Ah, but utilizing the joint assignment — when a joint application would never have passed muster — is diabolically clever. It’s still not an enforceable trademark, however — registration, assignment or not.

UPDATE: Via (and according to) aTypical Joe, I have discovered my inner (trademark – protected) self! Read More…

Anti-Sedition Acts begin their attack on the Internet

Originally posted 2006-01-16 23:17:14. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Different River reports on the biggest threat to free speech ever — the McCain-Feingold Act and its state law copycats.  Is there any chance that the new and improved Supreme Court will save us from this not so petty tyranny?  Or will the present controversies over “money in the political process” (see here for a contrarian view, by the way) make things even worse?

Louisiana’s lawyers’ guild

Originally posted 2008-11-26 00:28:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Last year we screamed and shouted along with a bunch of other people and prevented New York from passing “ethics” rules that would have essentially shut down New York lawyers’ blogs by regulating them out of existence.  Unfortunately all the noise didn’t make it down to Louisiana, which did go ahead and pass a similar set of restrictions under the guise of “consumer protection” but which should be understood as an attempt by established bar-association types to keep the bogeyman of blog- and Internet-savvy lawyers away from their cozy courtroom concessions.

Now a Louisiana law firm is taking on the regulations and has filed suit in federal court. Look, here’s their press release — we’re allowed to copy that (but links added by LOC):

This morning, Wolfe Law Group, L.L.C. filed a suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of Louisiana’s new rules governing lawyer advertising. The lawsuit seeks to prevent the enforcement of Louisiana’s new advertising rules, scheduled to take effect on April 1, 2009. The Louisiana advertising rules are some of the most aggressive in the nation, and Wolfe Law Group’s suit argues that the rules go too far and restrict an attorney’s right to freely speak about its trade.

Wolfe Law Group argues that the new rules effectively prevent a lawyer from advertising its services through online mediums, such as Google’s AdWords, as the rules also restrict an attorney’s ability to engage in discourse with colleagues, clients and the public through online bulletin boards, blogs, twitter, and other online communities and forums.

The law firm that practices in the area of construction law out of its offices in New Orleans, Louisiana and Seattle, Washington, is actively engaged in the Internet marketplace, posting daily on sites like wolfelaw.com, Twitter, Facebook, Avvo.com, and similar Web 2.0 services.

The suit argues that Louisiana’s new advertising rules would subject each of the firm’s posts to an “evaluation” by the Louisiana State Bar Association, with an evaluation fee of $175.00.

According to a letter sent to Wolfe Law Group’s colleagues and clients, “The new rules would stifle our firm’s ability to continue talking with you about the legal profession, the construction industry and the evolution of construction law across the nation.”

To continue commenting upon the progress of the action, the firm launched a blog titled “Blogging is Speaking,” at the Web address http://www.protectspeech.com.

Get that?  According to this, everything posted online by a Louisiana lawyer — and God help a Web 2.0-oriented shop such as Wolfe or, say, LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION® — has to be run past a Louisiana oldlaw censor at $175 a pop!  Even assuming it isn’t bounced, that’s a lot of pops per pixel.  It’s prior restraint on the First Amendment axis, a restraint of trade (sorry, it’s a profession, but in economic terms a trade) on the antitrust axis, and just plain piggy on the obnoxious axis.

This effort by the Wolfe Law Group deserves the support of blogging and online-networking lawyers, their clients, their prospective clients… everyone who isn’t getting a cut of that $175 per, basically.

UPDATE:  Kevin O’Keefe thinks it’s a tempest in a teapot:  “Lawyers get paid to be creative”!  (Via Overlawyered.)

MORE:  Here’s the preliminary injunction amicus brief filed by Public Citizen.

Turning back that Crimson Tide

Originally posted 2009-11-03 13:50:30. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Trademark law does not trump the right to make and sell artistic depictions of real life after all, it turns out.  Or even NCAA football.

Almost exactly four years ago I wrote about the suit by the University of Alabama urging the obnoxious claim that artistic depictions of its players at play were, by virtue of utilization of the familiar uniforms and colors of those players, infringements of the Alabama trademarks in its corporate sports machine.  Amazingly, the first judicial ruling in that case has just come out — and, blessedly, it gets it right (even if the Tuscaloosa News reporting of it is a little, er, sic):

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Propst said in an opinion that Moore did not violate trademark laws by painting scenes of Crimson Tide football without licensing the work through the university. He rejected UA’s argument that the football team’s uniform and colors are iconic enough to trump First Amendment rights in fine art.

‘This court concludes that the depiction of the uniforms in the paintings is incidental to the purpose and expression of the paintings; that is, to artistically depict and preserve notable football plays in the history of University of Alabama football,’ Propst wrote in his memorandum opinion.

UA attorneys had argued before Propst in a hearing two weeks ago that Moore’s paintings showed trade dress, which they said is any symbol associated with UA, including the crimson and white color scheme.UA sued Moore for trademark violations in March 2005, alleging that he painted scenes of Crimson Tide football games without permission from the university and reissued previously licensed prints without paying royalties. The university is seeking back pay [sic] for more than 20 paintings and wants Moore to license any future paintings. . . .

Propst knocks down nearly every claim made by UA attorneys against Moore, even writing that Moore did not violate previous licensing agreements with new or reissued paintings. At the center of the issue, Propst dismisses UA’s assertion that painting Crimson Tide football violates [sic] trademark because the uniforms and their colors are not protected.

Also, UA argued that Moore’s paintings were too realistic and did not transform the original scene enough to constitute artistic expression. However, Propst writes the reality of the painting is needed to relate the play and adds to the level of artistry.

Propst also writes there isn’t enough confusion among customers as to who sponsors the paintings. ‘It is likely that people who buy the Moore paintings do so, at least partially, because of their loyalty to the University of Alabama and its football team,’ he wrote. ‘That, however, does not create any reasonable inference that they do so because of confusion based on the color of the uniforms.’

The whole opinion is here.

There will be no end to the greed or the attempt to utterly distort the entire purpose of trademark here — this will be appealed, it has been promised.  In the Eleventh Circuit (as everywhere else), “To show a likelihood of success on the merits for [either a] trademark and trade dress infringement, [a plaintiff] must show that consumers will likely confuse the [plaintiff’s] mark or dress with [the junior user’s product or service]. See Carnival Brand Seafood Co. v. Carnival Brands, Inc., 187 F.3d 1307, 1309 (11th Cir. 1999) (trademark); Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., v. Samara Bros., Inc., 529 U.S. 205, 146 L. Ed. 2d 182, 120 S. Ct. 1339,1343 (2000) (trade dress).”  So what’s the argument — the public will think that the paintings are the Crimson Tide’s latest run defense?

Of course, consumer confusion is never, ever seriously considered in naked rent-seeking cases such as these — Read More…

Revisiting the Black List

Originally posted 2006-03-07 13:14:43. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

David Bernstein writes:

[Northwestern Law Prof Martin] Redish concludes, and this Reviewer agrees, it was entirely appropriate — under the First Amendment, and also morally — for businesses and individuals to boycott members of the Stalinist CPUSA.

(SKIP PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT LAW SCHOOL POLITICS. ) Marty Redish wrote that? Very impressive for its political incorrectness. Maybe he’s hankering to follow (one of my other first-year NU Law professors — took Redish’s course on federal jurisdiction, too, which really paid off…) Dan Polsby, also recently getting attention on the Volokh blog, to George Mason Law. Interesting NU / George Mason thing going on here — what with Bernstein’s article appearing the NU Law Review…. (Ugh. I should leave this stuff to Brian Leiter.)

But really, I highly recommend the link, assuming that like everyone else you don’t read law review articles. Everything you thought about the “Red Scare,” pretty much, was wrong (unless you’re the type who reads this blog regularly, I guess). And the fact that a mainstream First Amendment authority such as Redish will write that this was an issue of moral choice, not “stifling of dissent,” is a very good development.

Defacing “The Face”?

Originally posted 2010-05-27 23:50:36. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Genius!  Plus studliness!

Yes, in one post on his Licensing Law Blog, Richard Bergovoy brings together some of my favorite things:

What do Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and Princess Diana all have in common?

If you guessed that all of them are dead celebrities, you are only half right.

More importantly, all of them were subjects of messy postmortem lawsuits against sellers of celebrity-branded goods.

Because of great variations in the laws, as well as “favorite son/daughter” influence on local courts, using the name or image of a dead celebrity to sell products without a license is risky business.

Doing so may put a businessperson in violation of two categories of legal rights, rights of publicity laws and trademark laws.

The more direct threat is the law of rights of publicity. Generally speaking, rights of publicity laws prohibit the commercial use of the name (and usually image and signature) of another person without his permission. But that is about all one can say with certainty — the laws are state-based, not federal, and beyond the basics, there are great variations in the laws of the states that recognize rights of publicity. In fact, it is not even certain how many states do recognize rights of publicity, with estimates ranging from the mid-20’s to close to 50.

One of the biggest variables among state laws is whether the right of publicity survives the celebrity’s death, and if so, for how long. States that characterize the right of publicity as a personal right naturally conclude that it is extinguished on the person’s death. New York is one such state. States that characterize the right of publicity as a property right, like New Jersey, naturally conclude that it survives the person’s death, and is descendible to her survivors.

That seems simple enough. So where is the problem? Read More…

Second class on the First Amendment

Originally posted 2009-04-06 08:38:10. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

The Administration believes bloggers can’t be trusted with free speech the way everyone else is, it seems.  Reports FT.com (hat tip to Marco):

Advertisers in the US are bracing themselves for regulatory changes that they fear will curtail their efforts to tap into the fast-growing online social media phenomenon.

Revised guidelines on endorsements and testimonials by the Federal Trade Commission, now under review and expected to be adopted, would hold companies liable for untruthful statements made by bloggers and users of social networking sites who receive samples of their products.

Bad, bad idea.  I definitively (!) addressed this two years ago right  here.  Nothing else to talk about.

Blogger anonymity upheld against John Doe defamation claims

Originally posted 2006-05-28 09:59:40. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

The defendant-appellant, John Doe No.1, anonymously posted allegedly defamatory statements about the plaintiff-appellee, Cahill, on an internet blog. Cahill brought a defamation action. Seeking to serve process on Doe, Cahill sought to compel the disclosure of his identity from a third party that had the information. A Superior Court judge applied a good faith standard to test the plaintiff’s complaint and ordered the third party to disclose Doe’s identity. Doe appeals from the Superior Court’s order. Because the trial judge applied a standard insufficiently protective of Doe’s First Amendment right to speak anonymously, we reverse that judgment.

The decision in John Doe v. Cahill from the Delaware Supreme Court is here. This is the trend: Appellate courts are not permitting “John Doe” defamation actions to be their own justification. These rulings prevent plaintiffs to merely file a flimsy complaint and get quick discovery from ISP’s so plaintiffs can learn the identity of bloggers and others on the Internet who are virtually never actually committing legally actionable defamation — but who are critics the plaintiff would like identified.

Courts are not making it impossible for bona fide plaintiffs to get discovery to which they’re normally entitled. But igot-gouzenko-hoodedthey are requiring, in cases like these, that plaintiffs make a legal showing of their bona fides up front,which is eminently reasonable considering how meritless most defamation actions are.

It doesn’t do me, as a defendant, any good to win a motion to dismiss if the main thing you, as a plaintiff and the subject of my criticism, already have what you want — my identity — and are now free to get me fired, cut off from my suppliers, or shunned, as the case may be. It also removes some of the burden on defendants, who are usually financially worse off in these situations, from having to hire attorneys to quash subpoenas served on ISP’s, much less to make appearances on behalf of anonymous parties. This is a good trend.

UPDATE: More, similar news from California.

Best of 2013: Turning back that Crimson Tide

Originally posted 2009-11-03 13:50:30. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Originally published January 8, 2013

Trademark law does not trump the right to make and sell artistic depictions of real life after all, it turns out.  Or even NCAA football.

Almost exactly four years ago I wrote about the suit by the University of Alabama urging the obnoxious claim that artistic depictions of its players at play were, by virtue of utilization of the familiar uniforms and colors of those players, infringements of the Alabama trademarks in its corporate sports machine.  Amazingly, the first judicial ruling in that case has just come out — and, blessedly, it gets it right (even if the Tuscaloosa News reporting of it is a little, er, sic):

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Propst said in an opinion that Moore did not violate trademark laws by painting scenes of Crimson Tide football without licensing the work through the university. He rejected UA’s argument that the football team’s uniform and colors are iconic enough to trump First Amendment rights in fine art.

‘This court concludes that the depiction of the uniforms in the paintings is incidental to the purpose and expression of the paintings; that is, to artistically depict and preserve notable football plays in the history of University of Alabama football,’ Propst wrote in his memorandum opinion.

UA attorneys had argued before Propst in a hearing two weeks ago that Moore’s paintings showed trade dress, which they said is any symbol associated with UA, including the crimson and white color scheme.UA sued Moore for trademark violations in March 2005, alleging that he painted scenes of Crimson Tide football games without permission from the university and reissued previously licensed prints without paying royalties. The university is seeking back pay [sic] for more than 20 paintings and wants Moore to license any future paintings. . . .

Propst knocks down nearly every claim made by UA attorneys against Moore, even writing that Moore did not violate previous licensing agreements with new or reissued paintings. At the center of the issue, Propst dismisses UA’s assertion that painting Crimson Tide football violates [sic] trademark because the uniforms and their colors are not protected.

Also, UA argued that Moore’s paintings were too realistic and did not transform the original scene enough to constitute artistic expression. However, Propst writes the reality of the painting is needed to relate the play and adds to the level of artistry.

Propst also writes there isn’t enough confusion among customers as to who sponsors the paintings. ‘It is likely that people who buy the Moore paintings do so, at least partially, because of their loyalty to the University of Alabama and its football team,’ he wrote. ‘That, however, does not create any reasonable inference that they do so because of confusion based on the color of the uniforms.’

The whole opinion is here.

There will be no end to the greed or the attempt to utterly distort the entire purpose of trademark here — this will be appealed, it has been promised.  In the Eleventh Circuit (as everywhere else), “To show a likelihood of success on the merits for [either a] trademark and trade dress infringement, [a plaintiff] must show that consumers will likely confuse the [plaintiff’s] mark or dress with [the junior user’s product or service]. See Carnival Brand Seafood Co. v. Carnival Brands, Inc., 187 F.3d 1307, 1309 (11th Cir. 1999) (trademark); Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., v. Samara Bros., Inc., 529 U.S. 205, 146 L. Ed. 2d 182, 120 S. Ct. 1339,1343 (2000) (trade dress).”  So what’s the argument — the public will think that the paintings are the Crimson Tide’s latest run defense?

Of course, consumer confusion is never, ever seriously considered in naked rent-seeking cases such as these — Read More…