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Florida City Sends Bogus Trademark C&D To Blogger Because It Doesn't Like Its Logo Parodied

from the GOVERN-YOURSELF-ACCORDINGLY dept

You'd think city lawyers would talk to other lawyers before sending cease-and-desist letters to citizens. Or, at the very least, page through a few pamphlets on intellectual property law before threatening people with legal actions completely unmoored from statutory authority. But if they all did this, what would we write about?

The city of Tamarac, Florida, is the latest participant in the long-running MMO we call "The Streisand Effect." Apparently, the city doesn't like its logo being used by someone who has little respect for the city's governance. It would presumably approve of its logo being adjacent to more respectful writing, but the lack of legal threats directed at home-teamers makes it difficult to gather test cases.

As the Miami New Times reports, the city of Tamarac is unamused by a blogger's disrespectful parodying of its logo/leader.

Last month, independent blogger (and human limerick) Sharon Aron Baron, who runs the blog Tamarac Talk, wrote a short post encouraging Tamarac residents to run for mayor in 2018. The post, titled "It's Good to Be the King When You're the Mayor of Tamarac," detailed various ways in which Baron thought Mayor Harry Dressler may or may not have been doing a poor job as the city's leader. The post included a photo of the city's unremarkable logo with Burger King's King mascot superimposed.

That image apparently enraged someone at the city so deeply that the city's attorney, Julie F. Klahr, got involved, sending Baron a cease-and-desist letter demanding that she stop making fun of the city's precious logo.

Here's the image that so bothered the city's legal department that it issued bogus legal threats. (Burger King apparently remains unperturbed by this use of its intellectual property.)

The city calls it "unauthorized use," but the city isn't allowed to control every use of its logo. No one needs to ask permission before engaging in parody. (What a sad, sad world it would be if that were true...) The deputy city attorney, Julie F. Klahr, should know better. Perhaps she should have asked the partners at Goren Cherof Doody & Ezrol for some legal guidance before issuing this bogus C&D with their letterhead. Or maybe the law firm doesn't care what sort of stupid letters assholes send with its name all over it. Whatever the case, the letter makes sure the recipient knows the city's engaged in IP thuggery with its sign-off sentence (in all caps): GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY.

Sharon Aron Baron, the author of the offending posts at Tamarac Talk, has responded to the legal threats by posting the letter and reminding the city that pursuing bogus legal claims isn't the best use of taxpayers' money.

We contend the use of the city logo with the Burger King mascot photoshopped in front of it is clearly a parody which is protected free speech and that using taxpayers dollars to have the city’s attorney’s fight sophomoric cases like this is an insult to to all of our residents.

What’s so frightening, is that it seems that the city and the law firm of Goren Cherof Doody & Ezrol P.A. were unaware of the right of free speech enshrined in both United States and Florida Constitutions and the doctrine of fair use.   The fair use doctrine allows the use of copyrighted materials for purposes such as criticism or comment, which is not a copyright infringement. See 17 U.S.C. § 107(1982).   As 17 USC § 107 makes patently obvious, the purpose of this section is to prevent a copyright from being used as a device of censorship, which is exactly what the City of Tamarac is trying to do.

Baron says "copyright," but the letter (correctly) says "trademark." It doesn't really matter which form of IP is being abused to stifle free speech. It's the stifling. (Although it does help to know the IP specifics when fighting bogus demands...) The city should know better. Either it doesn't know or it doesn't care. Neither of these is a good look for public servants.

[Side note: I find it somewhat ironic that Baron's blog makes points about fair use while simultaneously deploying Javascript to prevent copying of text or downloading of images.

It's kind of hypocritical to toot your fair use horn while throwing roadblocks up in front of people looking to do the same thing.]


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  • identicon
    andy, 6 Mar 2017 @ 9:45am

    Reverse this!

    Maybe the accused should turn this around and demand compensation for his content being linked to a crime and him being accused of being a criminal...Seek redress from the court and demand the person in question pay out of their own pocket or even force the local taxpayers to pay huge monetary compensation, maybe then this uneducated official will be removed from their position and forced to work in burger king. No i like Burger King too much to allow them to be harmed by someone like this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Kaden (profile), 6 Mar 2017 @ 9:48am

    "the law firm of Goren Cherof Doody & Ezrol"

    heh heh heh... she said 'doody'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 6 Mar 2017 @ 10:13am

    Interview the lawyers

    I have a suggestion for Tim and Mike: whenever they write stories like this, could they also interview the lawyers and ask why the case was filed.

    I know I sound like a broken record on this issue, but I think it's time we started hearing from the lawyers: did they file the case not knowing about parody laws? Or did they know the law and file the case because their client paid them?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2017 @ 10:35am

      Re: Interview the lawyers

      And what do you suppose would be the responses they would get from said lawyers. Because I imagine that 9 times out of 10, these lawyers would realize their mistake by the time they receive correspondence from Techdirt, and their response would be silence. Because whatever their reason, it's going to end up being a dumb or embarrassing one. And any words they try to utter in defense of it will only make them seem dumber.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2017 @ 5:26pm

      Re: Interview the lawyers

      > I have a suggestion for Tim and Mike: whenever they write stories like this, could they also interview the lawyers and ask why the case was filed.

      Attorney-client privilege. Go look it up.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Mar 2017 @ 8:14am

        Re: Re: Interview the lawyers

        Sure, most of them would go "No comment"...if you assume they're competent in the first place.

        And based on the claims made in these C&D letters, that's a fairly broad assumption.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TripMN, 6 Mar 2017 @ 10:15am

    Are you parodying the city's name?

    It's Tamarac.

    You have flipped the 'm' and 'r' on at least three occasions in the piece itself and once in the 'File Under' section.

    Please GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY. :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      TechDescartes (profile), 6 Mar 2017 @ 10:31am

      Re: Are you parodying the city's name?

      Um, the City's name already is a parody.

      According to the article, it's the reverse of "Caramat", a line of car washes owned by the founder of the City. Of course, that's not on the City's history page.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2017 @ 10:24am

    [Side note: I find it somewhat ironic that Baron's blog makes points about fair use while simultaneously deploying Javascript to prevent copying of text or downloading of images.

    Not only that, but Javascript of questionable value. There are specific cases present to block users of Netscape 4 and Internet Explorer 4, which need special (and different) handling due to their limited support for Javascript. As a reminder for those who do not follow browser history, Windows 2000 shipped with Internet Explorer 5, so anyone who actually uses Internet Explorer 4 to visit that site is running a version of Windows that is not only unsupported, but has two successors that are also past end-of-life (Windows 2000, Windows XP).

    Sadly, there appears to be no fallback support for this blocking, so NoScript users will not get to experience this silly barrier.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 6 Mar 2017 @ 10:29am

    No There There

    To sound official, Ms. Khlar cites to Section 3.01 of the City Charter. But that section of the Charter merely states what the City's seal is to look like:

    The official seal of the City of Tamarac hereby established shall bear the legend "City of Tamarac, Broward County, Florida, (SEAL), Established 1963," and such identification symbols or logo as the commission may establish.

    Ironically, the logo here doesn't even comply.

    Ms. Khlar then cites Fla. Stat. § 495.131, regarding infringement of state-registered trademarks. While the City surprisingly has a Florida trademark registration on this logo, both the City and the state apparently overlooked Fla. Stat. § 495.121, which prohibits registering the any mark that "[c]onsists of or comprises the flag or coat of arms or other insignia of the United States, or of any state or municipality, or of any foreign nation, or any simulation thereof."

    I'm not saying this is a baseless threat. I'm saying (shouting?) GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 6 Mar 2017 @ 10:39am

    "You'd think city lawyers would talk to other lawyers before sending cease-and-desist letters to citizens. Or, at the very least, page through a few pamphlets on intellectual property law before threatening people with legal actions completely unmoored from statutory authority. But if they all did this, what would we write about?"

    Puppies...you could write about puppies...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 6 Mar 2017 @ 10:41am

    "Goren Cherof Doody & Ezrol"

    They are a subdivision of Dewey, Cheatem & Howe.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2017 @ 12:14pm

    Suggestion:

    Change the logo from Florida City to the City of London (UK) and see how that works out.
    /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tanner Andrews (profile), 12 Mar 2017 @ 3:16am

    The VIP Tent for City Officials

    Leads to interesting speculation. It could be a legitimate city function where the officials are there to carry out city business. In that case, it needs to be open, pursuant to S:286.011; the consequences of violation could be noteworthy.

    It is also possible that the tentind and feeding of the officials serves no legitimate function, but that could then be deemed ``unauthorized compensation'' under Ch. 713.

    Fortunately, it's not my file, so I do not have to decide.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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