May It Please The Court

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May It Please The Court
by Leonard Rivkin
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Quote of the Day - What this country needs is more free speech worth listening to. - Hansell B. Duckett
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Can You Say That On The Internet?

All lawyers have taken con law (despite what you may be thinking, that's short for "constitutional"). So, to one degree or another, we're all qualified to comment on the subject. With that qualification out of the way, here goes.

How do you rebel if you're unsatisfied with a particular product? In this instance, our hero and heroine were not happy with the company that sprayed siding on their home. So unhappy that they started a website to voice their complaints.

What did it get them? A lawsuit.

Why? Alvis, the spray-on siding manufacturer, thinks that items posted on the homeowners' website infringes the company's trademark, that the homeowner website,, is too similar to Alvis' website,, and that the homeowners are disparaging Alvis.

We've all heard about the First Amendment right to free speech. So what's going on here? Can't the homeowners say what they want?

Well, there's a fine line between free speech opinions and disparagement. Basically, you can say what you want as long as you don't disparage someone else.

How's that for a lawyer's answer? Think about it this way: it's a fact-specific inquiry. Do the homeowners statements look more like an opinion or more like they're maligning a business? Are the statements true? Would you be confused between the two sites?

If you've clicked on the links, you know that there's virtually no way you're going to be confused. You also probably understand that the homeowners are upset with the quality of the company's work.

What are we going to get out of this case? Likely some good guidelines about what can and can't be said on competing websites. Stay tuned folks, this will be an interesting one to watch.

And listen.

Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, November 06, 2004 at 08:00 Comments (2)


Comments by Deoxy from United States on Monday, November 08, 2004 at 10:31 - IP Logged
"What are we going to get out of this case? Likely some good guidelines about what can and can't be said on competing websites."
You're kidding, right?
I mean, we SHOULD, but there have been several cases like this, and somehow, the court always manages to specifically avoid laying out any useful guidelines. It's almost like they want to encourage thee employmnt of lawyers or something...

Comments by David Giacalone from United States on Sunday, November 07, 2004 at 11:34 - IP Logged
Yes, let's get guidelines that are so clear, that nonlawyer customers will be able to easily follow them on sites that criticize a product or service -- and so that a "reviewed" company's lawyers will face frivolousness sanctions if they attack such sites with meritless trademark suits.
Also, let's use a more precise term than "competing websites," which sounds like a website by a competitor of the targetted website, as opposed to a site by disgruntled customers.

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