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.


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Aug 2018 @ 10:58am

    "This is my political opponent's SOP, vote accordingly."

    Well, I'd say they just handed a nice set of easy to use PR for anyone who cares to challenge their political seat come next election.

    Vindictive, dishonest, willing to lie and assume that people are stupid enough to buy said lies... oh yeah, there would seem to be plenty to work with there.

    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."

    And as for that, beyond highlighting just how scummy they are, I can't help but wonder if they might have crossed the line into 'open to be sued for defamation' there. It would depend on how they worded the claims, but accusations that someone is running an illegal business and has committed tax fraud strike me as a titch beyond just 'matters of opinion' regarding character, which are legal, and into 'that person is breaking the law' which I'm guessing are somewhat less so.

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

    • icon
      Nathan F (profile), 16 Aug 2018 @ 12:24pm

      Re: "This is my political opponent's SOP, vote accordingly."

      And as for that, beyond highlighting just how scummy they are, I can't help but wonder if they might have crossed the line into 'open to be sued for defamation' there. It would depend on how they worded the claims, but accusations that someone is running an illegal business and has committed tax fraud strike me as a titch beyond just 'matters of opinion' regarding character, which are legal, and into 'that person is breaking the law' which I'm guessing are somewhat less so.

      And to make it even easier, Becker made the statements while she was holding public office which could be construed as "a threat under color of law"

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2018 @ 12:59pm

      Re: "This is my political opponent's SOP, vote accordingly."

      ?>Vindictive, dishonest, willing to lie and assume that people are stupid enough to buy said lies...

      Doesn't that describe most politicians these days?

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 16 Aug 2018 @ 9:32pm

        Re: Re: "This is my political opponent's SOP, vote accordingly."

        A good number, but most of them try to at least hide it somewhat. I suppose in a warped way Becker is to be commended for at least being upfront about how vindictive and dishonest they are.

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

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 Aug 2018 @ 11:07am

    Free advice: Instead of trying to silence and bankrupt critics, maybe try being a better person (or at least a better politician) instead.

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

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 16 Aug 2018 @ 11:16am

      Re:

      "...try being a better person (or at least a better politician) instead."

      You mean they are not one in the same?

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 16 Aug 2018 @ 11:39am

        Re: Re:

        Unfortunately, yes. Not always, but all too often.

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

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 16 Aug 2018 @ 11:51am

        Re: Re:

        Of course they're not.

        Bill Clinton is a good politician. Jimmy Carter is a good person.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 16 Aug 2018 @ 11:52am

        ... how?

        Somehow I got my comment exactly backwards. Meant so say that no, they are not one and the same all too often, as being a good person bars you from using underhanded and slimy tricks(you know, like trying to register a name already in use by a critic of yours), and tricks like that are (sad to say) effective far more often than they should be in politics.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2018 @ 11:13am

    Why not address the criticism, provide your pov and be mature rather than juvenile.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 16 Aug 2018 @ 12:34pm

    Dis-continuity??

    Becker said she
    Becker continued to insist her
    Becker admitted—proudly so—that she

    Becker receiving negative responses by readers of his site.

    Strange? or names swapped?
    "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."

    Where does the name come from? Wedge live?
    AS many cities are
    CR their names...for no REAL LEGAL reasoning..Except to control the USE of their name..Which is stupid.
    Something missing here?
    was this a Physical meeting? Comment period?
    asking for comments would be from Becker, as the City rep.
    Negative response on Becker's site??

    ----------------- I know its not from this site, but at least Contend it with the residing site/paper,,
    Im not an english major, but it really needs clarification.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 Aug 2018 @ 1:13pm

      Strange? or names swapped?

      That is just an awkward placement of the “his” pronoun. A pronoun should always refer back to a noun, usually the one nearest to it that matches it in number and, when necessary, gender. “His” refers to Edwards in this context.

      Where does the name come from? Wedge live?

      It is, to quote the article, “the name of a blog that has been critical of [Becker]”.

      Im not an english major

      You most certainly are not.

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

  • identicon
    Tomato Tomahto, 16 Aug 2018 @ 1:14pm

    Minor correction

    "formation of an activist group by Edwards that opposes the policies and zoning changes Becker would like to institute"

    Actually the Edwards activist group supports policies and zoning changes that Becker would like to block. The Edwards faction includes developers who want to open the entire city to (small) apartment building construction. The Becker faction wants to maintain the status quo for neighborhoods that are predominantly single-family homes.

    As one who previously owned a small business in MN, my understanding is that name registrations (for DBA) go to the first person to file them. From the city's website
    https://business.minneapolismn.gov/launch/register-your-business
    "Check online see whether your business name is available: go to the Business Filings search page and type your business name into the search box. If no results come up, your name is available."
    "All LLCs, Corporations, Nonprofits, and Limited Partnerships in Minnesota must register with the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State. "
    "If you will be a sole proprietorship or you are using a name other than your given name, the names of your partners, or the officially registered name of your LLC or corporation, you must file an assumed name with the Minnesota Secretary of State."
    So, in the absence of such action, if John Edwards is accepting money as "Wedge LIVE!", he's probably in violation.

    It was still a boneheaded thing for Becker to do.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2018 @ 5:50pm

      Re: Minor correction

      The business name grant by the city, maybe. But you wouldn’t have a city filing for a podcast. But a big issue is the trademark filing, which does not work under those rules

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 16 Aug 2018 @ 4:50pm

    Duck_Soup_Barbra_Streisand.mkv

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


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