Trademark Bully Jenzabar Ordered To Pay $500,000 In Attorney Fees Over Its Unrelenting Attack On Documentary Filmmakers
from the now-will-it-end? dept
For years now, we’ve covered the bizarre legal fight between software company Jenzabar and some documentary filmmakers, Long Bow Productions. One of Jenzabar’s founders, Chai Ling, was one of the student leaders of the Tiananmen Square uprising — a fact that Jenzabar has played up many times in its promotional efforts. Long Bow made a documentary about the uprising, and in that film, it shows Ling making some comments (that apparently she’d prefer she never said out loud) about how she hoped for bloodshed. Now, most people would brush off those comments as youthful excess of an immature activist, but Ling, now living in the US and using her activist roots to promote the company, instead resorted to suing Long Bow Productions for defamation and trademark infringement. The defamation lawsuit went out the window pretty damn quick (tough to be defamation when you actually said the stuff they quoted you saying). She then focused on a wacky and totally ridiculous trademark claim, arguing that because the filmmakers mentioned Jenzabar on their website (and, specifically, in the title and meta tags) about the film, it was trademark infringement.
Jenazabar lost the lawsuit, but only after engaging in extensive and costly discovery and depositions, then appealed on a ridiculous and obsolete theory. They then lost the appeal. And, now a court has thankfully ordered Jenzabar to pay $511,943.12 in attorneys’ fees and expenses for pursuing such frivolous legal strategies, clearly designed to silence free speech, rather than for any legitimate trademark purpose. The court is pretty clear on this in slamming the company for its efforts and awarding such a large amount:
The central element of abuse of process is the use of litigation for an ulterior purpose — that is, a purpose other than to achieve relief for the wrong alleged. The overall record of this case leaves no doubt that that is exactly what Jenzabar did; it subjected Long Bow to protracted and costly litigation not to protect the good will of its trademark from misappropriation, but to suppress criticism of Jenzabar’s principals and its corporate practices.
[….] Equally indicative of Jenzabar’s ulterior purpose is its conduct of discovery, particularly its pursuit of lines of inquiry in depositions that had no conceivable relevance to its claims. The exercise of discretion by the judge who heard discovery motions not to award sanctions at that time does not preclude this Court’s consideration of Jenzabar’s conduct at depositions as part of the totality of the circumstances of the case.
Similarly instructive as to Jenzabar’s ulterior purpose is its statement of facts in opposition to summary judgment, in which it set forth a series of assertions to the effect that statements by Long Bow on its Jenzabar page and elsewhere were harmful to Jenzabar’s reputation and its “standing in the academic community.” Clearly, Jenzabar’s concern was not user confusion as to sponsorship or source, but harm to its reputation arising from the content of Long Bow’s statements. Jenzabar’s multiple and shifting legal and factual theories, asserted at the various stages of the case, support the same conclusion, as does its objection to pro hac vice admission of the lawyer who assumed Long Bow’s defense after it had exhausted its resources. In this regard, the differences in economic power between the parties is one of many circumstances that tends to confirm the conclusion that Jenzabar engaged in extortionate conduct, making this case exceptional.
Jenzabar might still appeal this ruling, apparently, and given its willingness to drag this on for years and years and years, despite almost no chance of prevailing, it seems like there’s a decent chance it will do so.