Jones Day vs. the Internet

8 10 2008

After more than a year on the IP beat, I had come to believe that we-own-the-Internet lawsuits were mainly the terrain of certain patent owners. But this month we saw the trademark owners step up, in the form of a major law firm protecting its intellectual property with a “permission to link” lawsuit.

Jones Day, a megafirm with 2,100+ attorneys, has sued a small real estate news service for trademark infringement, dilution, and some related claims. The firm claims that by writing two stories about Jones Day associates who bought real estate, and linking to their firm bios, ignored the law firm’s trademark rights.

Last week, Public Citizen and EFF filed an amicus brief arguing that Internet hyperlinks do not a trademark infringement claim make.

Public Citizen lawyer Paul Levy called the case “a new entry in the contest for ‘grossest abuse of trademark law to suppress speech the plaintiff doesn’t like.'” Levy also quotes the Chicago judge overseeing the case as having asked the defendants: “Do you know, young man, how much money it’s going to cost you to defend yourselves against Jones Day?”

Blockshopper’s reporting is based on publicly available real estate records; it publishes short stories about professionals who buy property in particular neighborhoods.

The amicus brief is also available via EFF. Remarkably, yesterday Levy reported that Jones Day has actually opposed the filing of his brief because it’s “partisan.” (Taking sides? In a courtroom? You don’t say…)

Before it filed suit, Jones Day wrote two July nasty-grams to Blockshopper, penned by firm partner Meredith Wilkes. She demands that the “unauthorized links” to the firm’s web site be disabled, as they are “disparaging the reputation of Jones Day” and “constitute, at a minimum, service mark infringement, service mark dilution, deceptive trade practices, fraudulent misrepresentation, palming off, reverse palming off, tortious interference with a valid business expectancy, invasion of privacy, false light publicity, and appropriation of likeness in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1501 et seq., as well as state law.” [complaint w/ exhibits, PDF]

Whew! And all this on behalf of two Chicago associates, Dan Malone and Jacob Tiedt. (to link or not to link? I’ll skip it.) Wilkes, who didn’t return my phone call last week, continues her turn-off-your-Internets-now letter by demanding that the news service “immediately disable all links to Jones Day’s web site, remove the photographs of Jones Day personnel from your web site, and prevent the posting of any content on your web site which is proprietary to Jones Day.”

She concludes: “Should you fail to comply with these demands, Jones Day will commence immediate litigation for damages and injunctive relief against you. Your actions will be closely monitored.”

So. Careful with the links, kids. The palming off, the reverse palming off… all of it.

Illustration: Nordisk familjebok via Wikimedia

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