Court Should Not Allow U.S. Rep. Ron Paul to Unmask Videographer Who Bashed Opponent Huntsman in Video

Jan. 27, 2012  

Court Should Not Allow U.S. Rep. Ron Paul to Unmask Videographer Who Bashed Opponent Huntsman in Video

Presidential Candidate’s Lawsuit Is Legally Unsound, Public Citizen Says in Amicus Brief

WASHINGTON, D.C. –The presidential campaign of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) should not be able to unmask an anonymous videographer who backed the candidate and bashed a challenger in an online video, Public Citizen said in an amicus brief !!! filed today with a federal district court in San Francisco.

The video, released Jan. 4, ridiculed former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman for his connections with China and advocated Paul’s election. In a complaint filed Jan. 13, Paul’s campaign committee alleged that the video both infringed his trademark and defamed him by improperly implying that he was behind it. Paul’s campaign committee seeks damages and injunctive relief – not just for the video to be removed from the Web, but also for the videographer to be prevented from ever using Paul’s name in any material in the future, regardless of whether the use implies Paul’s endorsement.

“This complaint is utter nonsense in several respects,” said Paul Alan Levy, a Public Citizen attorney who specializes in Internet free speech and who authored the amicus brief. “Legal precedent forbids trademark claims against Internet communications that do not sell or advertise goods or services. Ron Paul’s trademark claims also are factually nonsensical because nothing in the video suggests that he sponsors the video.” 

To be sure, the video advocates Paul’s election, but it is well known that candidates often have supporters whose campaign activities are entirely independent of candidates themselves, Levy said. By the same token, the complaint asserts that the use of the pseudonym NHLiberty4Paul implies that he sponsors the video, but in reality, the pseudonym suggests only that the person who posted the video supports Paul’s candidacy. Like any other candidate, Paul has no control over who supports him and what they say in expressing that support, Levy said.

Paul’s campaign has failed to meet the legal standards necessary for the court to allow the identification of anonymous Internet speakers; in fact, his request ignores the many court decisions that require showing that the lawsuit has merit, the brief said. And although the judge already has indicated that early discovery cannot be allowed without further explanation from the Paul campaign, case law from around the country requires an even greater showing, including the submission of evidence, before anonymous political speakers may be identified by a civil subpoena.

“I do not doubt that Paul has suffered abuse at the hands of his electoral adversaries over this video, condemning him for the actions of putative supporters, and perhaps he has concluded that the best way to show his disapproval of the video is to sue its makers,” Levy said. “But if Paul sets a new standard, that the only way you can distance yourself from obnoxious statements by your putative supporters is to sue them on trademark and defamation grounds, on the theory that they have unlawfully associated you with their obnoxious views, Paul will have done serious damage to liberty.”

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.