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Absurd lawsuit puts hyperlink on trial

Does this link to Jones Day’s Web page confuse you? Does it make you think that maybe the CitizenVox blog, or Public Citizen is somehow affiliated with this law firm? Or are you thinking to yourself, “What the heck is Jones Day? Of course I know that the link doesn’t mean you’re affiliated. It’s just a link. It’s how I get from one Web site to another. Ten years ago, people called this ‘surfing the Web.’ ”

But Jones Day is suing the real estate news site BlockShopper.com for using its name and linking to its site, claiming that by using the name “Jones Day” and including a hyperlink to Jones Day’s home page, BlockShopper is diluting Jones Day’s trademark. Seriously.

Never mind that the entire “you’re diluting my trademark” only makes sense if most people have heard of you (sorry, Jones Day, you’re no Pepsi or Heinz Ketchup). Ars Technica blogger Nate Anderson offers a screen shot of the page that got Jones Day all in a tizzy. It reports that a Jones Day attorney purchased a house in an upscale neighborhood in Chicago. Big whoop.

Note that the suit does not reference invasion of privacy or anything like that – this is, after all, public information we’re talking about. So that’s not the issue. Nor does the issue have anything to do the BlockShopper scurrilously saying nasty things about Jones Day. The news site simply reported facts, and mundane facts, at that.

Clearly, BlockShopper’s references to Jones Day fall under fair use, just like the references to Jones Day in the blog post. But the massive law firm seems to believe it can simply bully the two-man operation into submission by rearing it’s head, stomping, huffing, and puffing.

Just because you’ve got money and power, doesn’t mean you’re permitted to go stomping around on other peoples’ rights. But the fact that this suit actually went to trial – and that the judge actually issued a temporary restraining order barring BlockShopper from mentioning Jones Day or linking to its site – demonstrates (sigh) that this argument must be made, absurd as it may seem.

You can read the amicus brief Public Citizen and other public interest law groups filed here. In the meantime, go ahead and find any excuse you can to hyperlink to Jones Day. It’s your First Amendment right.