“If you say anything remotely critical about the Ecuadorian government, you may face a copyright takedown,” wrote Maira Sutton at EFF in May. A Spanish firm that represents the government of Ecuador, Ares Rights, has sent out many such takedown demands, related to media accounts of surveillance, corruption, and the country’s Lago Agrio legal dispute with Chevron. More recently, following growing scrutiny of its own activities, Ares Rights has aimed takedown demands citing supposed copyright infringement against its own critics, including Adam Steinbaugh. Details: Mike Masnick, TechDirt; Ken at Popehat. It has also represented the government of Argentina.
The retreat came after Mike Masnick at TechDirt and Joe Mullin at ArsTechnica pointed out some of the reasons the attempt might be problematic, among them that the challenge had been used widely by other charities before it caught on in August in connection with ALS.
Duke University and the heirs of the late actor John Wayne have been fighting in court for nearly a decade over trademark/licensing rights to the word “Duke” [Eriq Gardner, The Hollywood Reporter]
Too close to the regulation of speech content, too chancy in its impact on the rule of law [Jonathan Turley, Washington Post]:
Many of us recoil at the reference to skin color as a team identity. The problem is that the Redskins case is just the latest example of a federal agency going beyond its brief to inappropriately insert itself in social or political debates. …
The Supreme Court affirmed in 1983 that the IRS could yank tax exemption whenever it decided that an organization is behaving “contrary to established public policy” — whatever that public policy may be. … There is an obvious problem when the sanctioning of free exercise of religion or speech becomes a matter of discretionary agency action. And it goes beyond trademarks and taxes.
Earlier here and here.
Why should trademark law ban “disparagement” in first place? Caleb Brown interviews me on the Washington Redskins case for the Cato Daily Podcast. Earlier here.
David Post has a post at the Volokh Conspiracy laying out the unexpectedly complicated relationship between the federal Lanham Act and state trademark common law. And he presents the First Amendment problem with “disparagement” doctrine head on:
…the constitutional question is also, for me, pretty cut-and-dried; this is precisely the sort of thing the First Amendment prohibits: an agency of the federal government doling out benefits on the basis of whether or not you have used a word or phrase that is ‘disparaging,’ or that “bring into contempt, or disrepute” any “institutions, beliefs, or national symbols.” … [Whether my view of the matter is in tune with current doctrine is another question entirely]
Now that we’ll be canceling trademarks of sports teams with disparaging names, here’s one that got away. [Washington Post]
The maker of the hit video game has obtained a trademark on the use of its name in games and clothing. King.com is asserting its legal rights not only against many games whose names include the word “Candy” — it will presumably make an exception for the old-time board game Candy Land — but also against various users of the word “Saga.” “We won’t make a viking saga without the word Saga, and we don’t appreciate anyone telling us we can’t,” said one group working on a game product that consumers are unlikely to confuse with the Candy Crush version. [GameSpot, A.V. Club, Anthony Wing Kosner/Forbes via Slashdot]
Joe Patrice, Above the Law:
But put aside whether Spin Master can win this infringement claim on the merits, consider what they asked for in their demand letter, as explained on You Rather’s blog:
1. Stop using “You Rather” and any other phrases that are similar to “Would you rather”. This includes one (yes, really) or more of the words “Would”, “You”, or “Rather”.
2. Hand over our yourather.com domain immediately
3. Tell them how much money You Rather has made (presumably to ask for that too)
4. Pay for their lawyers
“One or more of the words ‘Would,’ ‘You,’ or ‘Rather.’” Presumably this is meant to prevent You Rather from just rearranging words, but this is a demand letter, not a contract. There’s no need to get cute and ask the website to agree to abandon any use of the word “you.” This is why people hate lawyers.
The case against Dillard’s we noted earlier this month, and the one against Saks a while back, are no outliers: “Just in the past seven years, the Hells Angels have brought more than a dozen cases in federal court, alleging infringement on apparel, jewelry, posters and yo-yos.” [New York Times]
“Hells Angels is suing 8732 Apparel and Dillard’s Inc. in federal court, claiming trademark infringement of its famous skull-with-wings logo known as the Hells Angels Death Head.” [My San Antonio] The U.S. Department of Justice along with various state law enforcement agencies have deemed the celebrated motorcycle gang to be an organized criminal enterprise.
Attorneys for the state, which has a record of zealously guarding its “I [Heart] NY” promotional logo, have sent a threat to a model train company over a discontinued replica model of a real-life train that used the logo [Joe Patrice, Above the Law] [Corrected: state, not city]
The Underbelly restaurant in Houston offered a “Double Double” burger. When chef Chris Shepherd got a letter from lawyers for the California-based In-N-Out chain, saying it infringed on their similarly named sandwich, he promptly changed the name to “Cease and Desist Burger.” It has sold well, says the restaurant’s marketing manager. [Erica Ho, Time]
Esther Wrightman, who opposes the construction of wind turbines near her Ontario home, made some YouTube videos taking a dim view of NextEra, a leading wind-power company. Now the company is suing her, alleging among other things that she infringed on its intellectual property rights by publishing satirical altered versions of its logo. [Ezra Levant, Sun; Bayshore Broadcasting]
An international brewing company that uses a red-and-orange “#9″ mark on one of its brands is suing Lexington, Ky. craft brewer West Sixth Brewing Co., which uses a black-and-green “6.” “If it was on a coaster, and the person across the table was colorblind and fairly stupid, I suppose there might be some initial confusion. … there might be a problem if somebody is holding their beer upside down.” [Lowering the Bar; Kentucky.com]