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Major Law Office Cannot Use Trademark Law to Suppress Free Speech on the Web, Public Citizen and EFF Say

Sept. 19, 2008  

Major Law Office Cannot Use Trademark Law to Suppress Free Speech on the Web, Public Citizen and EFF Say

Hyperlinks and References to Firm’s Name Cited as Trademark Violation to Intimidate Online News Company

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Chicago office of a national law firm, Jones Day, cannot use trademark law to intimidate an independent Web site and stop it from referring to the firm by name or linking to the firm’s Web site, Public Citizen, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge and the Citizen Media Law Project told the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois in a friend-of-the-court brief filed today.

“Hyperlinks in Web sites link to other Web sites – that’s what makes the Internet work. That’s what makes it a ‘World Wide Web,’ ” said Paul Alan Levy, an attorney with Public Citizen, who co-authored the brief in support of BlockShopper.com. “It is abusive and absurd for Jones Day to attempt to apply trademark law to squelch speech it doesn’t like, especially in the form of references to itself that link to its Web site. It is the same as if a corporation sued a newspaper for referring to it by name in a perfectly factual article the corporation dislikes.”

BlockShopper, a real estate news site that reports on purchases in upscale neighborhoods in Chicago, Las Vegas, Palm Beach and St. Louis, reported that a pair of Jones Day associates had purchased condos earlier this year. The Web site referred to Jones Day and the associates, Dan Malone and Jacob Tiedt, by name and linked to the law firm’s home page.

Jones Day filed suit in August against BlockShopper and its two principals, arguing that its trademark had been diluted and that by linking to its Web site, BlockShopper users may confuse the two businesses.

At the beginning of the case, faced with the daunting prospect of battling a high-powered national law firm, BlockShopper agreed to a stipulated temporary restraining order barring any mention of Jones Day or links to Jones Day’s Web site on BlockShopper.com.

“Jones Day’s claims are barred by law and common sense,” said Corynne McSherry of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the brief’s co-author. “Legislators and judges have recognized that our free speech rights won’t mean much if wealthy and powerful groups are permitted to use bogus intellectual property claims to chill accurate, legitimate news and commentary. We hope this court will recognize it as well.”

Local counsel for the public interest amicus brief is Robert Libman of Barnhill, Miner & Galland.

READ the brief.