Nov. 23, 2005
Judge Rules That Web Site Critical of Hamilton CountyRepublican Party Should Not Be Shut Down
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A Cincinnati court today denied a request from the Hamilton County Republican Party to shut down a Web site critical of the party, accepting arguments made by Public Citizen.
The party on Nov. 18 requested that the site be shut down because its domain name, www.hamiltoncountyrepublicanparty.com, is nearly identical to the domain name of the party’s Web site, www.hamiltoncountyrepublicanparty.org. The party alleged that site owner Michael Dalton, a Cincinnati resident, committed trademark infringement and is guilty of unfair competition.
In a hearing today in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas, Judge Ralph E. Winkler denied the party’s motion to immediately order Dalton to refrain from using his Web site. In a memorandum of law filed to coincide with the hearing, Public Citizen, which is representing Dalton, argued that because the Web site is strongly critical of Republicans and several Republican judicial candidates, no reasonable viewer would confuse it with the Hamilton County Republican Party’s true Web site, and therefore there is no trademark infringement. Dalton was represented at the hearing by Cincinnati attorney Bruce Whitman.
In his brief, Dalton also argued that the party’s motion for a temporary restraining order should be denied because such an order would constitute a prior restraint on political speech that would violate core First Amendment principles, and because trademark law pertains only to commercial speech made to promote a business. Moreover, legal precedent has established that trademark law is not implicated when a Web site is devoted to criticizing the holder of a trademark and is unlikely to confuse viewers.
“The trademark laws were not designed to prevent citizens from publicly criticizing a political party,” said Public Citizen attorney Gregory Beck. “The party was attempting to shut down a site just because it features uncomplimentary statements about it. However, the court recognized that shutting down the site would have been a clear violation of Mr. Dalton’s First Amendment rights.”