Car Expo Threatens Online Critics with Bogus Trademark Claims
EFF Backs Parody Protest Site of Chicago Auto Show
Chicago - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) warned the Chicago Auto Show today to back off attempts to muzzle protestors who posted a parody of the show's website.
The parody site, autoshowshutdown.org, is a clearinghouse for information about the "Auto Show SHUTDOWN Festival" -- an annual event where hundreds of cyclists parade through Chicago to raise awareness about global warming and to promote sustainable transportation. The ride culminates in a rally at the entrance to the show. But this week, a lawyer for the auto show sent a threatening letter to the protestors, claiming that the website amounted to trademark infringement and that it would seek damages if the parody was not taken down.
In a letter sent in response today, EFF reminded the auto show that trademark infringement must involve some commercial use, which is clearly not the case in this non-profit, community-organized protest.
"Auto show organizers can't stop thousands of citizens from attending the SHUTDOWN Festival. Instead, they have resorted to baseless trademark claims to silence critics and interfere with planning for an event that embarrasses them," said EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. "Both trademark law and the First Amendment won't allow for that."
In addition, an EFF investigation found that the auto show does not actually own the trademark it is claiming was infringed. Records show that the Chicago Auto Show abandoned the mark by neglecting to respond to correspondence from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, as required by law.
"The auto show seems so scared of fair competition in the marketplace of ideas that they aren't playing clean," said protest organizer Dan Korn. "Fortunately, we know our free speech rights, and we will be exercising them during the SHUTDOWN Festival, despite their threats."
EFF's letter to the Chicago Auto Show is part of its ongoing campaign to protect online free speech from the chilling effects of bogus intellectual property claims. EFF is currently representing a blogger threatened with copyright infringement by ABC after criticizing talk radio hosts. In November, EFF reached an agreement with the corporate owners of the popular children's television character Barney the Purple Dinosaur to withdraw meritless legal threats against a website publisher who parodied the character.
For the full response sent to the Chicago Auto Show:
For more on the threat to the SHUTDOWN Festival:
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Chicago Auto Show SHUTDOWN Festival