Commentary

Link-Hating Law Firm Presses Case

It's not that unusual to see disputes between publishers and the people they write about, but most disgruntled subjects of stories realize that news organizations pretty much have a right to run truthful articles about them. Whether it's Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers or Brad and Angelina, people don't generally threaten to sue just because their name appears in print, even if they don't like what's said.

For some reason, the law firm Jones Day doesn't seem to grasp that online publications are as free to write about the firm and its personnel as any traditional media outlet. The firm's lawyers also are having trouble wrapping their minds around the idea that online publishers put links into their stories.

Instead, Jones Day is insisting it's the victim of trademark infringement because Blockshopper.com, an online news service that covers real estate, mentioned the firm's name in stories and linked to its site.

It's the kind of complaint that flummoxes trademark lawyers. Often, trademark infringement involves one company trying to trick consumers into thinking it's affiliated with a rival. If Pepsi decided to market its soda under the name Coke, that would be trademark infringement.

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But a newspaper linking to a company's Web site? Every online company from Google to The New York Times to Gawker would go out of business defending trademark infringement lawsuits if linking was unlawful.

And, honestly, why would consumers be confused by the links in Blockshopper? Blockshopper isn't a law firm; Jones Day isn't a newspaper.

Jones Day must think it's really come up with something outside-the-box on this one. But there's a big difference between a creative approach and an utterly absurd one.

Blockshopper's attorneys asked the judge to recognize what everyone knows: News publications link to other companies' Web sites. For instance, the company said, The Chicago Tribune linked to the Four Seasons' Web site in an article about the hotel.

Today, Jones Day filed papers opposing that request. "Discussion of another entity's practices requires analysis of facts that are not before the court," the firm's lawyers argued. Apparently with a straight face.

If Jones Day didn't want to be written about, well, too late now. If it wants to salvage its reputation with the online media world, it should stop this bizarre quest to squelch links.

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