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.
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.]