On February 1 2007 EFF warned the Chicago Auto Show 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 "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."