Society Of Professional Journalists Makes Itself Look Foolish In Strange Attempt To Trademark 'Fake News'

from the not-how-any-of-this-works dept

You may be aware of an organization called The Society of Professional Journalists. The group has found itself in the news most recently as Trump’s lawyer and all around great guy Charles Harder has attempted to suggest that this professional group’s ethical guidelines for journalism somehow constitute something that legally binds newsmakers. Harder has done this so as to suggest to CNN that Trump can sue the media company for… look, I don’t know, not being on the President’s side enough or something? The point is that Harder’s legal theory is almost certainly nonsense, will likely be laughed out of court, and ought to be embarrassing to Harder himself, should he in fact be capable of the normal human emotion of shame.

But the SPJ should embarrassed as hell as well, given that at least one chapter of the the organization has apparently hatched a ludicrous plan to trademark the phrase “fake news” as a stunt, all so it can send threat letters to the President for using the phrase as though it were trademark infringement.

Citing polling that indicates 40 percent of Republicans think the term applies to accurate reporting that casts politicians they support in a negative light, Emily Bloch of Teen Vogue writes that the application is unlikely to be approved and the move is intended to compel people to “think about what fake news is, and what it means to them.”

“So yes, this is satire. It’s a joke. But it’s a joke with a point, and as any student of public discourse will tell you, a joke sometimes hits harder than the truth,” Bloch wrote. “And if anyone accuses us of trolling the president, well, nothing else seems to work with him, so what do we have to lose?”

While the SPJ chapter waits on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Bloch writes, it intends to send letters to President Trump warning him he is infringing on a pending trademark.

What do you have to lose? Well, we can start with respect and reputation. All this does is demonstrate the SPJ’s apparent total ignorance of how trademark law works. First, there is no chance this trademark gets approved. It’s not being used in actual commerce. It’s not a real thing. It’s just a whipping post for a petulant President.

And even were the USPTO to bungle this and approve this non-trademark-able trademark, the letters threatening the President for using the phrase are without merit as well. There is this misconception with some of the public that trademarking a phrase somehow means others cannot use it in common conversation. That’s obviously not how trademark law works (nor, while we’re at it, the First Amendment).

Honestly, why anyone at the SPJ thought this was a good idea is beyond me. I assume they do know better and are just trying to make a point with publicity as a vehicle. But there are enough of us out here that know how dumb this all is that I’m not certain the SPJ is more making a point about Trump, or the organization itself. Indeed, considering that a key part of SPJ’s history is protecting the First Amendment rights of journalists, it’s a really bad look to then try to abuse trademark law (even as a “joke”) to try to silence anyone, let alone the President of the United States.

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Comments on “Society Of Professional Journalists Makes Itself Look Foolish In Strange Attempt To Trademark 'Fake News'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: frivolous lawsuit

"Journalists are the only profession that makes lawyers look good in comparison."
Certain journalists, yes. For example, that veritas asshole.

"The public consistently holds both those professions in very low regard generally."
Really? I would like to see the numbers and from where they originate.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: frivolous lawsuit

According to this poll (measuring level of trust specifically, not regard generally), journalists are right in the middle, with a basically balanced positive and negative opinion. Lawyers are at -9%. What’s interesting is opinions on journalists are more polarized, with more people not trusting them compared to lawyers, but also a lot more people finding them trustworthy.,-least-prestigious

Lawyers are seen as significantly more prestigious than journalists; I’d say no surprise there.

I found various other sources about ranking professions but often journalism isn’t on the list.

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bhull242 (profile) says:

This gives me an idea…

Maybe I should start a parody news site like the Onion and call it the Fake News. Then maybe I could possibly legitimately trademark “Fake News”, not that I would actually enforce such a thing.

More importantly, I’d get to see if people are dumb enough to take information from a source that calls itself Fake News seriously. That might be fun.

Anonymous Coward says:

It should not be possible to trademark simple terms, already in use,like fake news , they did not invent this .
Trademarks should only be allowed for company name,s , products , maybe the name of a website
organisations, sports organisations ,union,s etc eg fanta,
nfl, etc
eg terms in common use should be open to use by any one ,
eg tech new,s ,science research .
Otherwise free speech becomes limited and only to be used by people who can afford to buy a trademark .

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