Category Archives: Speech

Supreme Judicial Court Punts On Executive Defamation Privilege

Last week, everyone in Washington, D.C. was talking about the invocation of “executive privilege,” the ability of a President to withhold information from, for example, an investigation into Russian influence on the U.S. election. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) considered, and then punted on, a different kind of executive privilege: the absolute privilege of an executive to defame others without liability.… More

Court Issues Temporary Restraining Order Against Invention Patenting and Promotion Company for Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices

There are many businesses focused on helping inventors develop and monetize their ideas.  There are companies that, for instance, help people seek patents on their inventions, license their inventions, turn their ideas into tangible products, and promote those products.  World Patent Marketing in Florida bills itself as one of those companies.  But according to a complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission this month,… More

Hot News, Shredded Wheat and Wool Underwear: Brandeis On Copyright And Trademark

brandeisOctober 9 marks the 100th anniversary of Louis Brandeis’ first session as a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (October 9, 1916 was the second Monday in October – in 1917, the Court began meeting on the first Monday).  This occasion is worthy of remembrance not only because of the historical importance of the man himself, but also because Brandeis was the first Jewish jurist (or non-Christian of any creed) to ascend to the high court,… More

Fall Is In The Air: Are The Justices Getting Ready For The Gridiron?

The Washington Redskins Ask The Supreme Court To Block Fourth Circuit From Participation In Important Trademark Cases

footballAnother Labor Day is behind us, kids are back to school, and fall has unofficially arrived (it will become official on the September 22nd equinox).  The autumn leaves bring with them two major opening days.  One is already behind us, as the NFL literally kicked off its season on September 8 with a matchup between the Carolina Panthers (20) and the Denver Broncos (21).… More

The Death Of Alexander Hamilton And The Birth Of The American Free Press

Portrait of Alexander HamiltonAlexander Hamilton has more to do with American independence than you might think. His efforts as a Founding Father (the hottest Founding Father on Broadway, it should be noted) helped the United States achieve political independence from Great Britain.  But Hamilton also made a vital contribution towards helping the American justice system declare jurisprudential independence from the English courts, particularly with regard to defamation and free speech.… More

When Is Internet Speech Protected Petitioning Activity? Federal Court Grants Anti-SLAPP Motion In FIRE CIDER Trademark Suit

Free Fire CiderOn May 12, 2016, the District of Massachusetts held that that an online campaign in support of the cancellation of a registered trademark (FIRE CIDER) was protected petitioning activity, even though the campaign was organized and supported by the trademark owner’s competitors. Because the campaign activity was protected, the Court granted the competitors’ anti-SLAPP special motion to dismiss certain claims.  The case, Shire City Herbals v.… More

Texas Film Commission Permitted to Slice and Dice Financial Incentives to Machete Films

MacheteIt’s been a disappointing few months for Machete, Danny Trejo’s “Mexploitation” character created by Robert Rodriguez.  After making powerful enemies in Mexico, former Federale Machete found himself a day laborer and vigilante in Texas. His adventures allowed him to exact some bloody satisfaction against fictional corrupt Texas lawmen and politicians, but he is having decidedly less success against the real-world Texas government. … More

Justice Scalia on Trademark and Copyright: Dastar, Penguin-Shaped Cocktail Shakers and “Guilt by Resemblance”

ScaliaWhen we decided to mark the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia by recounting a few of his copyright and trademark opinions, we were somewhat surprised to discover that there really hadn’t been that many. In fact, we located only seven matters in which Justice Scalia contributed a written opinion on a substantive issue of trademark or copyright law, and only four were majority opinions. Here they are,… More

Sue-per Bowl Shuffle II: The Year in NFL-Related Intellectual Property Litigation

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Around this time last year, I started worrying about what would happen if someone at a Super Bowl party asked me to explain an NFL-related lawsuit, particularly one of those IP-ish lawsuits that I’m supposed to know about. So I put together the first Sue-per Bowl Shuffle, a guide to the year’s gridiron disputes over trademarks, copyright, the right of publicity and other matters with a First Amendment flavor.… More

The Twelve Res of Christmas: Yule-Themed IP Matters in 2015

It is often said Christmas is creeping ever-backwards, each year striving to begin its domination of our collective consciousness and consumer dollars at an earlier date. In the realm of litigation, Christmas creep manifests itself in part in the Yule-themed disputes that can occur at any time of the year, particularly in the areas of intellectual property and free speech. In order to get the Trademark and Copyright Law Blog into the holiday spirit,… More

Implied Threat on Facebook Insufficient to Support Stalking Conviction

FacebookLast month, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) held that a Facebook profile may constitute a “threat” within the meaning of the Massachusetts stalking statute. However, a profile that is merely “vaguely ominous or disturbing,” as was the case in Commonwealth v. Walters, is insufficient to support a conviction.

Background

In 2006, Michael Walters and his girlfriend bought a house together in Seekonk,… More

Are You Sure This Isn’t About Copyright? Chicken Sandwiches, Monkey Selfies and the Boundaries of Copyright Law

CaptureLast week, a wild crested macaque named Naruto (but really People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against photographer David John Slater in the Northern District of California. The suit alleges that Slater infringed Naruto’s copyright in the famous “monkey selfies” (taken by Naruto with Slater’s camera). The complaint requests that the Court order Slater to disgorge any profits he has realized from the distribution of the images and establish a trust,… More

Of Slants, Skins and Signs: The Coming First Amendment Showdown

adsfAre we heading for a constitutional showdown over Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act?  Will the Supreme Court strike down this prohibition on disparaging marks as an abridgement of First Amendment rights?  It is certainly beginning to look like a distinct possibility. Two developments lead me to this conclusion.

Disparaging Marks and Spending Power

The first development arises from two trademark cases that are now on appeal,… More

Marshmallow Justice: 10 Tales of Legal Fluff and Other Stuff

FluffJust about one hundred years ago, Archibald Query of Somerville, Massachusetts invented the first commercial marshmallow cream, which he pedaled door-to-door in Union Square.  Around 1917, he sold the recipe for $500 to two candy makers in Lynn who had just returned from World War I, and their company (Durkee-Mower) still makes Marshmallow Fluff today. In 2006, Union Square boosters began celebrating Query’s achievement with the Fluff Festival,… More

Statute Criminalizing Election Campaign Lies Found to Violate First Amendment and Article 16

CaptureOn August 6, 2015, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) in Commonwealth v. Lucas struck down Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 56, § 42 (Section 42), which criminalized the utterance or publication of “any false statement in relation to” a candidate for public office or a ballot question. Violations of the statute were punishable by a thousand dollar fine or up to six months imprisonment.… More

Harry Potter Lawsuits And Where To Find Them

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On July 31, 2015, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling celebrates her 50th birthday, according to muggle sources. The enormous success of Rowling’s literary creation and its associated multimedia empire has spawned countless jealousies, countless imitators, countless parodists and countless pirates. The franchise has kept dozens if not hundreds of lawyers busy with precedent-setting copyright cases, trademark disputes, First Amendment battles over religious expression,… More

Political Speech, Trademarks And The Definition of “Goods or Services”

3Last month witnessed the resolution of two trademark infringement cases involving the relationship between political activities and the definition of “goods or services.” On May 18, 2015, State Senator Steve Hershey gave up his right to appeal to the Fourth Circuit from the District of Maryland’s decision that he was infringing the Hershey Chocolate trade dress. On May 19, 2015, however, the Fourth Circuit overturned the case on which the District of Maryland had been relying.… More

Digilante Justice: Defamation By Camera Phone

swEarlier this month, a man in Melbourne, Australia decided to take his very first selfie next to a Darth Vader poster at a local shopping center. A nearby shopper mistakenly thought that the man was taking pictures of her young children. Convinced she had espied a pedophile, the mother snuck a cellphone shot of the man and uploaded it to Facebook, along with commentary labeling him a “creep” and implying that he might be a “registered sex offender.” When word of the post reached the man,… More

The Bermuda Triangle of Online Defamation: Copyright, Clickwrap and the CDA

RippoffWe have written many times about attempts to use copyright law to do what defamation law can’t: take stuff down from the internet. Because Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) prevents a defamation plaintiff from suing an internet service provider for merely hosting defamatory content, many allegedly defamed parties instead have attempted to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) to “take down” the offending material.… More

And the Lawsuit Goes to . . . An Oscar-Time Guide to “Best Picture” Intellectual Property Litigation

OscarThe film that wins the Best Picture Oscar this year is certain to attract more viewers and more box office receipts than it had before receiving the award. But Best Picture winners also tend to attract more lawsuits, including intellectual property claims. Plaintiffs show up out of nowhere claiming to be the true authors of the underlying work, infringing defendants come out of the woodwork to unlawfully grab a little bit of the success for themselves,… More

Sue-per Bowl Shuffle 2014: The Year in NFL-Related Intellectual Property Litigation

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Heading into this year’s Super Bowl party season, there are two things every lawyer should be concerned about. First, why can’t your team get it together? Second, what do you do if you are asked to explain to your friends and neighbors some NFL-related litigation that you haven’t been following? We can’t help you with the first problem (although, as an Iggles fan living in the heart of Patriots Nation,… More

Advertiser Jumps the Gun With Brochure Touting Tests; Fifth Circuit Brushes Off First Amendment Challenge to Lanham Act Claims

1Like claims for defamation or commercial disparagement, Lanham Act claims are viable only if they  involve statements of fact, rather than opinion.  But what happens if an advertising statement concerns an issue that is a matter of scientific debate?  Does that make the statement an opinion, and therefore non-actionable?  The answer, of course, is “it depends” — as illustrated by a recent Fifth Circuit case, and how it distinguished itself from a Second Circuit case with a different outcome.… More

Massachusetts High Court Upholds Cyberharassment Conviction Based on False Craigslist Ads

CaptureThe Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has upheld the conviction of an Andover couple for violation of the Commonwealth’s criminal harassment statute by, among other things, posting fake ads on Craigslist. In brushing aside the couple’s challenges to the statute, the Court emphatically held that the First Amendment does not provide a defense to allegations of criminal harassment simply because the defendant uses words to carry out the harassment. … More

Federal Government Wins Trademark Battle to Shut Down “Voice of America” Website with “Undeniable Governmental Aesthetic”

CaptureSince its first broadcast on February 1, 1942, the Voice of America radio service (VOA) has aired countless hours of programming in dozens of languages to what is currently an estimated global audience of over 100 million people. Although the history of the VOA name is storied and long, VOA’s efforts to protect that name are of a more recent vintage. VOA didn’t apply to register its name as a federal trademark until 2005,… More

Use of Porn Star Images in “Romance Fraud” Dating Profiles Fails to Support Trademark and False Advertising Claims

CaptureThe plaintiff in Avalos v. IAC/Interactive Corp. called it “one of the biggest conspiracies ever executed on the internet” — the unauthorized use of images of adult film stars in fake online dating profiles. But in an opinion issued October 30, 2014, Judge Jesse Furman of the Southern District of New York held that trademark law was not the right way to go about solving this problem.… More

New York Times Supreme Court Correspondent Adam Liptak Discusses Anthony Lewis’ Iconoclastic First Amendment Views

This past Friday, the keynote speaker at the Boston Bar Association’s Annual meeting was Adam Liptak, Supreme Court Correspondent for the New York Times. Mr. Liptak focused his remarks on the First Amendment views of his predecessor, journalist Anthony Lewis, the author of Gideon’s Trumpet and in many ways the father of modern legal journalism.  Mr. Liptak’s remarks were of particular interest to the Massachusetts audience,… More

What is More Defamatory? A False Accusation of Homophobia or of Homosexuality?

1In July 2014, Judge Barbara Jaffe of the New York Supreme Court dismissed the defamation claims in Kramer v. Skyhorse Publications. Kenny Kramer, the real life inspiration for the beloved eponymous Seinfeld character, had sued comedian Fred Stoller and his publisher because Stoller had written that a guide on the “Kramer Reality Tour” was shouting the catch phrase “not that there’s anything wrong with that” at passersby in Greenwich Village,… More

A History Of Massachusetts Anti-SLAPP Legislation As A Vehicle For Protecting First Amendment Petitioning Activity From Retaliatory Defamation Claims

Before the passage of anti-SLAPP legislation, citizens engaged in First Amendment petitioning activity often found themselves the targets of retaliatory lawsuits.  For example, a group of neighbors might speak out at a local zoning commission hearing to block approval for a new building development, only to find themselves defending against a costly lawsuit brought by the developer for, among other things, defamation or commercial disparagement.

This December will mark the 20th anniversary of the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP statute, … More

When “Slacker” Was A Dirty Word: Defamation And Draft Dodging During World War I

This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.  The Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated on June 28, 1914 and, by the end of August 1914, Germany, Russia, France and the United Kingdom had joined the war. The United States entered the fray on April 6, 1917, by declaring war on Germany. This was when the word “slacker” suddenly became defamatory.

The Slacker Lists

The U.S.… More

Supreme Court Fires Shot Across The Bow Of NSA Metadata Collection


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Recent revelations concerning the activities of the National Security Agency (“NSA”) include reports that the NSA and other government agencies have – in secret – routinely collected in bulk the “metadata” associated with millions of telephone users within the United States. While metadata does not include the actual words spoken in a telephone call or written in the body of an email,… More

“National Association For The Abortion of Colored People” Trademark Case Heads To Fourth Circuit

naacpWe previously reported on the dispute between the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the conservative activist Ryan Bomberger. Bomberger had repeatedly referred to the NAACP in online articles not by its actual name, but by the name “National Association for the Abortion of Colored People.” Bomberger characterized this alternative moniker as a parodic critique of what he perceived to be the NAACP’s pro-choice politics. … More

Defamation Claim Against HBO Sports Documentary Proceeds; International Sporting Goods Supplier Not a Public Figure

 

On May 16, 2014, in Mitre Sports v. HBO, the Southern District of New York allowed a defamation claim brought by a UK company against HBO to proceed to trial.  In Capturedoing so, the Court ruled that Mitre Sports International, one of the world’s top sporting goods suppliers, was not a public figure.

Battle of the Rotten Subcontractors
The case was sparked by an episode of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,… More

Catholic Priest Permitted To Conceal Non-Privileged Nature Of Defamatory Communication Until Statute Of Limitations Runs

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In a recent unanimous decision in Harrington v. Costello, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) held that the statute of limitations had run out on a Catholic priest’s defamation claim against his colleague, even though the colleague had allegedly fraudulently concealed the source of the defamatory statement.

Background

The plaintiff, John Harrington, was a priest at St.… More