The Jones Day law firm is suing an Internet site for mentioning the firm without permisson — a case that rankles First Amendment experts and challenges an underpinning of the World Wide Web.
The Cleveland-based firm claims BlockShopper.com violated trademark law by reporting that two Jones Day lawyers had bought condos in Chicago.
BlockShopper can’t use Jones Day’s name or link to its Web site because doing so suggests Jones Day is connected with BlockShopper’s business, the lawsuit argues.
First Amendment experts view the issue ominously.
Public Citizen lawyer Paul Levy described the lawsuit as a candidate for “grossest abuse of trademark law to suppress speech the plaintiff doesn’t like.”
“It’s preposterous,” he said in a phone interview. “There’s really no other word for it.”
BlockShopper is an online news service that uses public real estate data and information it culls from Google searches to write stories about people who buy and sell property. The 2-year-old company operates in four cities; it expects to add Cuyahoga County listings in October.
Jones Day, a multinational law firm with $1.4 billion in annual revenues, declined comment on its suit, filed in federal court in Illinois. But the case is generating criticism from Internet bloggers saying Jones Day is using its economic might to thwart free speech.
BlockShopper founder Brian Timpone said the company rejected a Jones Day offer to drop the claim if BlockShopper paid $10,000 and stopped writing about property transactions by Jones Day lawyers. Timpone said that would mean abandoning constitutional rights and undercutting BlockShopper’s business model.
“It’s a First Amendment argument to suggest that we can’t link to Jones Day or can’t write about Jones Day without their permission,” Timpone said. “I know they’re a big international law firm. But this isn’t Beijing. This isn’t Moscow. This is the United States.”
BlockShopper did agree to temporarily remove all references to Jones Day from its site and to stop linking to the firm’s Web pages. Timpone said BlockShopper will file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit today.
“The whole thing just leaves a bad taste in your mouth, that lawyers can just bully you and use their law degree in such a nefarious way,” he said.
BlockShopper posts real estate information about people who pop up in Internet searches, which skews its listings to the doctors, lawyers and other white-collar professionals who live in upscale neighborhoods in the places it covers — Chicago, Las Vegas, St. Louis and South Florida.