Elected Official Files Business, Trademark Registrations Using Name Of Website That Frequently Criticized Her
from the way-to-represent-your-constituents,-jerkface dept
Lots of government employees and officials would love to shut their critics up. The problem is that most methods they come up with don’t work (at best) or are unconstitutional (at worst). That doesn’t stop them from trying. The amount of hours expended trying to find ways to silence critics sits well above zero, making these efforts fraudulent as well as potentially unconstitutional.
Never underestimate the creativity of the criticized class, as Tony Webster reports.
Carol Becker, an elected official on the Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation, confirmed Friday night that she was behind an effort to file business and trademark registrations for Wedge LIVE!, the name of a blog that has been critical of her.
Wedge LIVE! is run by John Edwards, who has covered urban planning and related political issues in depth for the last four years. He has gone after Becker a number of times in his reporting and blog posts. He’s even attempted to take her job.
In the peak months of former Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges’ 2017 re-election campaign, Becker filed a civil lawsuit against the Mayor, claiming she had violated the City’s charter in the budgetary process. After Becker had claimed victory before any final disposition of the lawsuit, a judge found there was no violation and dismissed the case.
“When she sued the mayor, it felt like a stunt,” Edwards said, “I just felt like she was using her office to take political shots at people. She’s a perfect representation of a certain kind of politics in Minneapolis that I’m not a fan of.”
Edwards decided to run a last-minute write-in campaign against Becker, which he described as being a “half-joke” and doomed from the start. Becker won, but a surprising 1,539 voters wrote Edwards’ name on their ballot.
Becker has gone after Edwards and Wedge LIVE! as well, claiming the site is funded by “realtors” using “dark money.” The contentious relationship has escalated in recent months, with the formation of an activist group by Edwards that opposes the policies and zoning changes Becker would like to institute. Edwards also asked readers to comment on proposed plans during the public comment period, leading to Becker receiving negative responses by readers of his site.
All of this has now culminated in an intellectual property war without the knowledge of one of the participants. A public notice of a business registration was spotted by a Wedge LIVE! Fan while reading the analogue version of the local paper. This was passed on to Edwards, who had no idea his site’s name was being turned into a business by a subject of his criticism.
In the days after the public comment period ended, Becker went to the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State and filed business documents—name reservations and certificates of assumed name—for both “Wedge Live” and “WedgeLive,” the name of Edwards’ blog. Becker also filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to obtain a trademark on the name “Wedge Live,” stating under penalty of law that she believed she was entitled to use the mark in commerce, that nobody else has the right to use the mark, and that she had a bona fide intention to use it herself.
Becker wants to pretend this is all a coincidence.
Reached by phone, Becker admitted—proudly so—that she filed the business and trademark documents, paying at least $355 to do so.
“There were no legal entities using that name, and I think it would be an awesome name for a podcast. And so since no one else is actually legally using that name, it seemed like a good thing to do,” Becker said, stating that she intended the podcast to discuss ‘wedge issues’ and to do so ‘live’ instead of attacking others on social media, something she felt Wedge LIVE! Does.
Becker continued to insist her “Wedge Live” business and trademark registrations were a separate, independent matter from her concerns regarding Wedge LIVE!, the blog. “Two great minds coming up with the same name isn’t a bad thing,” Becker said.
There is a non-zero chance this is true. But it’s so small, it’s a rounding error. Becker admits it could be viewed as “retaliatory,” but says no one would really care if she retaliates against an “illegal business” and “tax fraud.” [!!!!]
As for the whole “podcast” claim, Tony Webster notes the trademark registration appears to describe the Wedge LIVE! website and its offerings, rather than refer to anything of a podcasting nature. It also appears Carol Becker may have been instrumental in getting items removed from Wedge LIVE’s Teespring store.
This statement, though, is probably the best/worst response Becker gave to Webster.
Becker said she would not have been able to register the names had Edwards registered them first. “If it wasn’t me, it could have been someone who is an asshole,” Becker said, going on to say that she wasn’t out to hurt anyone.
Instead of letting someone else be the asshole, Becker stepped up to be the asshole. Congrats.
Of course, this is also not how trademark law actually works. You don’t have to register to hold a common law trademark. You only have to use the name in commerce, meaning it’s likely that Edwards could be considered the common law trademark holder over “Wedge Live” and Becker’s attempt at registering the same name would almost certainly flop.
The good news is it appears Becker greatly overestimated the public’s tolerance for assholery from their elected officials.
As of Monday morning, an outpouring of support for Wedge LIVE! resulted in a 27% increase in Patreon donors for the site, and records at the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office showed cancellation of the assumed name and trademark filings, but no cancelation of the name reservation was recorded.
This means Wedge LIVE! retains the name… for now. Becker has promised to try again in another six months if Edwards doesn’t make a move. But she might have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for a local resident still reading the news in printed form.