Big Law Firm, Jones Day, Abusing Trademark Law To Stop Website From Reporting Public Info
from the abuse-of-power dept
We’ve seen all sorts of cases of companies abusing trademark law over the years, but this latest one may be the most questionable — and tragically, it may actually work. It involves a site, BlockShopper that’s basically a blog tracking publicly available info on real estate sales in certain neighborhoods around the country. It recently had two posts about associates at the big law firm, Jones Day, buying property in Chicago, listing out the details, including the fact that the lawyers worked at Jones Day with their photos. Jones Day has sued the website for trademark infringement. This seems highly questionable on a number of fronts.
According to Jones Day, linking to its web site dilutes its trademark and creates a likelihood of confusion. But that is preposterous. The link is in connection with a comment on Jones Day; when a trademark is used to comment on the trademark holder, the use reinforces the association with the trademark holder, rather than blurring it, and besides use for commentary is expressly protected as fair use under the Lanham Act as amended in 2006. Moreover, nobody could visit the BlockShopper web site and think that it is sponsored by or affiliated with Jones Day, even if they follow the links from BlockShopper’s mention of Jones Day associates to Jones Day’s own web site. That is what web sites do ??? they link to other web sites (that’s what makes it a “World Wide Web”).
Indeed, throughout the first paragraph above, I used Jones Day’s name (because I am writing about that firm) and linked to Jones Day’s web site and elsewhere. Is Public Citizen equally liable for trademark infringement and dilution? If Jones Day is right here, it is hard to see how the Web could survive.
As Levy notes, based on Jones Day’s argument, anyone who writes about the law firm may be liable for trademark infringement, but that’s ridiculous. Tragically, it sounds like the judge in the case is ignoring all of this. The judge not only agreed to a temporary restraining order against BlockShopper, but also told the site’s owner:
“Do you know, young man, how much money it’s going to cost you to defend yourselves against Jones Day?”
Apparently, actually being on the right side of the law is meaningless.
And before people bring up questions of copyright or privacy, Jones Day isn’t suing over either of those — and this is all publicly available information, so it’s difficult to see what the privacy claim is. Right now, it just looks like a case of a big law firm bullying the owner of a website because he’s done something the firm doesn’t like — and the judge is helping the firm out.