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.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, censorship, donald trump, fake news, free speech, trademark
Companies: society of professional journalists


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 23 Oct 2019 @ 4:08am

    May those who both suggested and greenlit this ridiculous idea never find themselves on the business end of a frivolous lawsuit brought by people more ignorant than those dumbasses.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2019 @ 7:01am

      Re: frivolous lawsuit

      Journalists are the only profession that makes lawyers look good in comparison.

      The public consistently holds both those professions in very low regard generally.
      Both professions diligently reinforce that dismal public view daily.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2019 @ 1:15pm

        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.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2019 @ 3:40pm

          Re: Re: Re: frivolous lawsuit

          I think they originate in his head.

          Right now journalists are some of our big cultural icons. People just forgot that they are in fact journalists because they often have more of an entertainment oriented focus.

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

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 24 Oct 2019 @ 11:31am

        Re: Re: frivolous lawsuit

        https://news.gallup.com/poll/245597/nurses-again-outpace-professions-honesty-ethics.aspx

        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.

        https://www.reliableplant.com/Read/2136/which-occupations-are-seen-as-most,-least-prest igious

        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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2019 @ 3:22pm

      Re:

      Fake news is parody. No one will ever take parody away.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Zof (profile), 23 Oct 2019 @ 5:41am

    Well, at least it's the creators doing it.

    They certainly are the experts.

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

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 23 Oct 2019 @ 7:10am

      Re: Well, at least it's the creators doing it.

      Yeah they have no chance at the title when InfoWars and Stormfront are much better and making the fake news you love, Zof.

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

  • icon
    Koby (profile), 23 Oct 2019 @ 6:22am

    Identifier

    I always thought that trademark was designed to identify your own brand. If successful, this would be an admission that the journalists are Fake News?

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

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 23 Oct 2019 @ 8:24am

      Re: Identifier

      Not at all. Greyhound Buses don't literally have dogs involved. Aunt Jemima syrup isn't run by an old black lady, and Trump University isn't a school in any sense of the word.

      That doesn't make it a good choice, or a legitimate one if you don't plan on using it. But if they are going to embrace the irony it sorta works.

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

  • icon
    bhull242 (profile), 23 Oct 2019 @ 8:09am

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2019 @ 8:18am

      Re: This gives me an idea…

      Even if you didn't enforce the trademark, think of all the traffic you'd get from the politicians saying, "that's Fake News" - who needs SEO?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2019 @ 1:17pm

      Re: This gives me an idea…

      The Onion may go out of business due to the unusual amount of actual real bullshit. How do you parody that which is beyond belief?

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 23 Oct 2019 @ 8:25am

    "... to suggest that this professional group's ethical guidelines for journalism somehow constitute something that legally binds newsmakers. " If he believes that, I think he needs to nerd Harder.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2019 @ 8:26am

    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 .

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

  • icon
    Paul Alan Levy (profile), 23 Oct 2019 @ 10:49am

    SCF?

    With respect, Mike, that headline is inaccurate. The Society did not do this. Perhaps you can argument that the Society looks foolish for something one of its chapters did.

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

    • icon
      Paul Alan Levy (profile), 23 Oct 2019 @ 10:51am

      Re: SCF?

      Correction: My disappointment should have been directed to Tim, not Mike

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 23 Oct 2019 @ 2:19pm

        Re: Re: SCF?

        There's some delightful humor in calling someone out for blaming the head group for what one of their members did, by doing roughly the same thing.

        Easy mistake to make to be sure and not really noteworthy normally, it's just the context this time makes for good chuckle.

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

  • identicon
    dickeyrat, 24 Oct 2019 @ 2:24am

    Charles Harder is the Donald Trump of lawyers (sorry, Rudy).

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.