Jones Day Abuses Trademark Law And Gets Its Way: Bullies Blockshopper Into Caving

from the terrible-news dept

Somehow we missed this news last week, but Consumerist alerts us to the very upsetting news that BlockShopper was forced to cave in and settle the absolutely ridiculous lawsuit filed against it by Jones Day. The lawsuit was a clear abuse of trademark law designed to silence a small company, and it looks like the judge did everything possible to help Jones Day achieve its goal. I've spoken with a few Jones Day lawyers who have admitted (quietly, of course) that they're embarrassed their firm did this, but the details of the story seem to get worse with each new step. One thing that seems clear, based on this: Jones Day is not a firm worth working with.

If you don't recall the details, Blockshopper is a pretty basic site. It would post news about people who had bought property in certain cities, including Chicago. All it was doing was publishing public information, based on government records, about who was buying property in certain neighborhoods. Apparently, two Jones Day lawyers purchased homes in a part of Chicago covered by Blockshopper. So it wrote about them, and included links to the Jones Day website, indicating that's where they worked. This was accurate, factual information found through public sources. It was not a violation of anyone's privacy, nor was it a violation of trademark law.

However, Jones Day, as a big bad law firm, apparently had no problem suing Blockshopper claiming that it was trademark infringement to link to the Jones Day website, in part because Blockshopper deep-linked the individual's names in the post to their profile pages on the Jones Day website. That is ridiculous by any standard, and an obvious abuse of trademark law. It is simply not a trademark violation to link to a company's website using its name or the name of an employee at the firm -- and the folks at Jones Day obviously know this. But since they are a huge law firm, they can pressure tiny websites to obey. Even worse... the judge in the case helped out. Rather than tossing out the case immediately and reprimanding Jones Day, the judge supposedly told the operator of Blockshopper:
"Do you know, young man, how much money it's going to cost you to defend yourselves against Jones Day?"
In other words, the judge wanted Blockshopper to cave. The case started to get some public attention, and a bunch of public interest groups, including Public Knowledge and the EFF filed briefs with the court. At this point Jones Day should have backed down and perhaps issued an apology for abusing trademark law to shut up Blockshopper. Instead, it asked the judge to not even allow the briefs from those groups, saying that because those briefs sided with one party, they were not legit. Apparently Jones Day is unaware that most amici briefs are favoring one side or the other. Stunningly, the judge agreed with Jones Day and refused to even look at the submitted briefs, and also refused to dismiss the case.

As we noted at the time, this would significantly increase the likelihood of Blockshopper settling, because it would (as the judge had noted originally) get expensive quickly. And, indeed, that's exactly what appears to have happened. Blockshopper has agreed to change the way it links to Jones Day, no longer using any anchor text other than the URL itself. As Slate explains:
Instead of posting "Tiedt is an associate," the site will write "Tiedt (http://www.jonesday.com/jtiedt/) is an associate."
There is simply no legal rationale for Blockshopper to agree to this. There is only the fact that it was going to get expensive to fight such a lawsuit and the judge seemed to clearly favor Jones Day, based on the events so far. Illinois does have a (relatively new) anti-SLAPP law, but it seems like we could definitely use stronger anti-SLAPP rules to stop this sort of abuse of the law to bully small websites. Anyway, you can see the "agreement" below, where Blockshopper agrees that it will not embed deep links to Jones Day's website:

Filed Under: deep linking, linking, trademark
Companies: blockshopper, jones day


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2009 @ 1:54pm

    So who else read
    Instead of posting "Tiedt is an associate," the site will write "Tiedt (http://www.jonesday.com/jtiedt/) is an associate."

    as Tiedit is an Ass ?

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