POLITICO Threatens to Sue Me

Today I received a cease and desist letter from Dow Lohnes PLLC on behalf of Capitol News Company LLC which is the bullypublisher of POLITICO. They claim that my domain name “thecollegepolitico.com” and its contents are “confusingly similar” to their trademarks. They then make absurd unfounded claims that I somehow specifically choose to use the term “politico” in my name to steal their readers and confuse them into thinking that POLITICO is a tiny conservative college opinion blog run by a single person.

They replay this same argument several times and then “demand” that I, within 10 days, stop all use of the label “The College Politico”, literally give them control of my domain name “thecollegepolitico.com”, and write them a letter declaring I will permanently cease and refrain from all future use of “The College Politico” or anything similar to POLITICO.

Just to explain, in case anybody was wondering, when I created my blog I had no intention to draw any relation to POLITICO. I was simply trying to find a snappy way to describe myself, hence The College Politico. And apparently, at least according to POLITICO’s attorney’s, I was too dumb to realize that the noun politico (originating in 1630 according to Websters) wasn’t a word which describes somebody in politics but rather a piece of property owned by a news conglomerate.

I certainly didn’t create it with any odd intention of somehow tricking people into thinking I was affiliated with POLITICO… and I honestly cant see how anyone who visits my site could ever get the idea that I was in any way affiliated with POLITICO. I mean the sites aren’t remotely similar in lay out or content (or enjoyability for that matter). Other than the commonly used noun politico what do we have in common? It’s my understanding, at least, that POLITICO is now and always has been a news organization.

In fact, the trademark they hold for POLITICO and CAMPUS POLITICO is only applicable in newspaper reporting about capitol politics or “news and information via the internet” about, essentially, capitol politics. Is that what I do here at The College Politico? It’s really hard for me to say yes or no because that’s such an absurdly broad net… is my opinion on news considered news and information? I wouldn’t say so… would you?

Another, perhaps more interesting, question that arises from POLITICO’s trademarks is the specific nature of them. You see, they don’t just own POLITICO and CAMPUS POLITICO, they own WALL STREET POLITICO, HOLLYWOOD POLITICO, MOBILEPOLITICO, LA POLITICA, EL POLITICO, and POLITICO TV. Now if they really believe, as they argue, that use of the term politico is a violation of their trademark then why do they keep trademarking such specific phrases including the term? It’s also interesting that someone was able to claim the trademark for PR POLITICO.com well after POLITICO had been trademarked… how does that work in all of this?

Quite frankly though I question their ability to trademark a commonly used term like politico and if I have the resources I would like to challenge it. They most certainly didn’t create the term politico or define it so why in the world should they have specific right to it?

In my opinion this seems like an ugly attempt to intimidate me into handing over a brand which I’ve worked extremely hard to build. A simple google search shows that the term “Politico” is used in a myriad of other politically focused sites which makes me feel as though they are singling me out.

Unfortunately, I’m not a lawyer and I have next to no money to spend on one. That’s where I really need help… does anybody know a good lawyer that might want to help me out for little or no money? Or will I have to give up fighting before I’ve even started?

UPDATE: I want to make sure that I say thank you to everyone who has posted about this and is supporting me… here is the list so far (I’ll update it if more people jump in):
Patterico
Ace of Spades HQ
Instapundit
HotAir
Vermontaigne
Riehl World View
Instapundit (making a point about the word pundit)
Stop the ACLU
Freedom & Liberty
The Sundries Shack
NewsBusters (it should be noted that they are merely reporting the facts and that I write for them)
Daily Pundit
Doubleplusundead
Blogs For Victory
The Minority Report (cross posted at Seeking Liberty)
Yid With Lid
Submitted to a Candid World

I also want to thank everybody whose given me support on twitter, through email, and in comments. I can’t express how much gratitude I have for all the kind words. Thank you.

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31 Responses to “POLITICO Threatens to Sue Me”

  1. Politico Tries Bullying College Politico « POWIP Says:

    [...] last night, having put in a call to the attorney who sent Steve the letter. Ace followed, and Steve himself posted, as did Dan Riehl. Please notify me, if I’m missing anyone. Pat stresses, quite correctly, [...]

  2. Smile Says:

    That sucks!! I hope that you are able to fight this. Don’t let them bully and intimidate you.

  3. Candice Says:

    I still feel that it’s pretty crappy for them to do this to you! I hope you’re able to find a good lawyer to help with this. They’re just being petty bullies, taking your lunch money, not cuz they need it, but because they think they can. Jerks.

    I know a few “law” types, most are still in law school though, but perhaps they know someone. I’ll put the word out and let you know if I come up with anything. :)

  4. Lisa Graas Says:

    I’m no lawyer, nor do I play one on tv, but I think I’m a reasonably educated person. In my view, you have every right to use a common noun in your blog name. You are in no way trying to pass yourself off as being affiliated with Politico and the common nature of the term should make it fair game, however, I would advise you to post a fixed disclaimer somewhere on the blog stating that you are in no way affiliated with Politico.

    I’m a devout Catholic, but if I have a website about the Catholic faith, it’s important that I post a similar disclaimer. A disclaimer should suffice. I wouldn’t link back to them in the disclaimer, though, unless you just feel very generous. It might sweeten them up a bit.

    I wish you well in this.

    Lisa

  5. ndhamby Says:

    contact the liberty council 1-800-671-1776
    a letter from them is probably all it would take.

  6. Northeast Elizabeth Says:

    Next Instapundit is going to threaten to sue every blog that has “Pundit” in its name.

    Write to Ben Smith over at Politico and tell him to ask his jackass masters to call off their dogs.

  7. Jeff Says:

    I have to say when I came to this website I was under the assumption this was Politico’s brand. I mean the logo is strikingly similar. The black/gray layout is similar to their red/white template. The vast array of advertising and stable of writers… Wow.

    They have a great case for “customer confusion.”

    NOT.

    PS – I registered PoliticoIsALeftWingPropagandaMachine.com. Come sue me.

  8. Stymie Says:

    Lisa’s suggestion is excellent. Post a DISCLAIMER with no link.

    Those bullies probably overlooked registering the domain “college politico” and are trying to backtrack.

    Good luck and stand your ground!

  9. John Smith Says:

    Just hit the link from HotAir. Surprise, surprise! You’re an Obama critic. Good luck with these assholes.

  10. Brett Says:

    I wasn’t aware of this blog until this story broke. Politico’s thug tactics simply are drawing attention to you in a good way. I’ll be book marking your site and ignoring Politico because I don’t like bullies. Thanks Politico for turning me on to College Politico!

  11. The College Politico | Freedom and Liberty Says:

    [...] an excerpt from his post: Just to explain, in case anybody was wondering, when I created my blog I had no intention to draw [...]

  12. Politico Threatens to Sue the College Politico : Stop The ACLU Says:

    [...] an email from the College Politico asking for advice. The big media blog Politico sent him a cease and decist letter on using the word politco in his blog name. I didn’t think of making a blog post on it, but I [...]

  13. andy Says:

    hey, sorry to hear about what happened. i work in the news industry at a clipping service, and to be frank, the first thing i thought of when i saw your url was that the politico had started a college edition. if you started this site for political discussion and you really didn’t think about scraping customers from politico, you obviously didn’t do your homework. noble intentions aside, if you want to make something work, you should do research and thought into it. i guess you just didn’t do enough research into your site’s identity and branding. good luck in the future though! hope the whole name thing works out for you.

  14. littlebeartoe Says:

    Mr. Gutowski, I’m sorry you’re on the receiving end of this grubby, greedy harrassment, but I’m glad it made a story big enough to attract folks like me to your excellent blog.

    NOTE TO OTHERS: I HIT THE TIP JAR, AND YOU SHOULD, TOO, IF YOU CAN.

    (Sorry for the caps. That’s the important point in this comment– we all tend to assume someone else will support the causes we like, but actually, often nobody does.)

  15. Terrence Says:

    I am also sorry you are on the end of the “grubby, greedy, harassment”. What the Politico is doing is disgusting, at best. Are they really stupid enough to think they have sole and only claim to the use of a common English word? Only a lawyer would make such an asinine claim.

    The Politico owes you an apology, and a statement that they will never harass you like this again.

    In the past, I seldom went to their website. I will never go to from now on. But, I may go now and see if I can post a note saying how disgusting and laughable they have made themselves look.

  16. Stimpy Says:

    Put in a pre-bid NOW for acorn.org. That should be up for auction within a month.

  17. Stimpy Says:

    I ate an Apple® a few months ago and just received a very threatening “Cease and Regurgitate” letter.

  18. Paul in NJ Says:

    (I posted this at Hot Air, and I thought I’d copy it here. I don’t know whether HTML is allowed in your comments, so the formatting and links might not make it, but the links just go to the USPTO.gov site.)

    Trademark law is full of nuances, and IP (intellectual property) lawyers often trade on those nuances.

    For starters, there is a trademark for Politico

    Word Mark: POLITICO

    Goods and Services: [...] Newspaper reporting on the activities of the legislative and executive branches of the Federal government, officials and employees of the executive and legislative branches of the Federal government, members of Congress and their campaigns, and other matters of interest to people who work for or with the Federal government. FIRST USE: 20070910. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20070910

    …but here’s where the nuance comes in. While you can’t trademark common words, you can trademark a particular portrayal of a common word — which is what Capitol News Company LLC has done:

    The color(s) red is/are claimed as a feature of the mark. The mark consists of stylized capital letters “POLITICO” in the color red.

    In other words, they’ve trademarked the red, all-caps version of the word POLITICO. They cannot trademark the word itself — and they have, in fact, disclaimed the word (“Standard Character claim: No”).

    The other factor to consider, however — and it’s significant — is the concept of “confusion”: How likely is it that someone coming across The College Politico will think he’s at a site run by Capitol News Company LLC? More nuance. I note that the College Politico’s “logo” looks nothing like POLITICO.

    I’m not an IP (or any other kind of) lawyer — but I’ve had extensive exposure to trademark law in my business. A good trademark lawyer would conclude that, in the end, Capitol News Company LLC could not prevail. However, the cost of that determination would be high — and that’s what POLITICO is counting on.

  19. StewartIII Says:

    Politico Threatening Conservative Blogger with Lawsuit
    http://newsbusters.org/blogs/nb-staff/2009/09/16/politico-threatening-conservative-blogger-lawsuit

  20. Crafty Hunter Says:

    I left a comment over at Patterico, but will summarise here by saying that I don’t think you will prevail on “College Politico”. Trademark law is not at all my forte, but I’ve read a *lot* on it, and am under the impression that trademark law isn’t fine-grained enough to distinguish between “College Politico” and “Campus Politico” when both are Internet “news” sites. I don’t think it is even relevant that both cover politics in particular.

    However, claiming further dominion over the mere word “politico” itself is typical lawyer overreach. You could register [angrypolitico.com] or [maddenedpolitico.com] and be in the clear, although that would, it is to be regretted, not recover for you the traffic built up to the specific domain name you’ve been using.

  21. InRussetShadows Says:

    Trademark law is fine-grained enough to distinguish between “Hallmark cards” and “Haulmark”, which makes trailers. Thus the case for “campus politico” being the same as “college politico” is far from a slam-dunk. Confusion cannot arise from sites that are not even named the same thing, but have names that are similar only in concept. Really, do you think that “Cherry Coke” and “Cherry Cola” cause confusion? They don’t as far as trademarks go. I salute you and may you bring the Politico lawyers to their knees.

  22. David in Scottsdale Says:

    Fight these sorry bastards. You are NOT infringing on their use of the word “politico”. Do not back down, get in their face, tell them to go f*** themselves, and let us know if you need money to beat these nazis.

  23. Another Reason to Hate Politico: Frivolous Threats of Litigation « Submitted to a Candid World Says:

    [...] it could become the sole arbiter of the term, and punish all who use it without attribution — starting with our friend, “The College [...]

  24. Break the Terror (Evan) Says:

    Wow.

    Well, I come from across the proverbial aisle as a friend of the Submitted to a Candid World blog, and I want to extend my support. Fight this if you can. It might be different (emphasis on “might”) if Politico was really more than a compendium of self-important hackery…but then again, if they were more than that, they probably wouldn’t be doing this, so screw them.

    Fight the good fight, if ya can.

  25. Crafty Hunter Says:

    I’d echo the recommendation, seen here and elsewhere, to post a clearly visible disclaimer that The College Politico is unaffiliated with the news site Politico. Make it simple and direct. It can only help to establish good faith, should this actually go to court. I’m not optimistic about the outcome, for the reason I already gave, but if it means that much to you, then you owe it to yourself to at least fight for the domain name with pro bono representation if you can find it, letting the people at Politico make themselves look like grinning, greedy goons along the way.

    Just don’t let it consume your life financially. It’s not worth it. There’s an old saying about picking your battles. If nothing else, you can get a new domain name and title, then perpetually keep in plain sight a notice that the site used to be called The College Politico before nasty trolls used the courts to steal the domain name for it. Consult legal representation first before saying anything like that *before* the legal battle is concluded, though! I agree entirely with Beldar over at Patterico on the value of clenched-teeth politeness for now.

  26. Obama Plays Race Card, Links Health Care To Civil Rights : Stop The ACLU Says:

    [...] yes, I know, we are supposed to be boycotting The Politico for their idiotic lawsuit threat against The College Politico, but, they are the only one with the complete story and the information to match it up (others have [...]

  27. headchip Says:

    It just cost me nearly $70,000 to fight a trademark suit for a mark that I had used in the past, but got picked up by third party websites. The case was eventually dimissed becuase of statute of limitations. However, I can tell you that the courts favor trademark holders… the attitude of the courts is that the Internet is a sea of trademark violators and that owners need all the help that they can get. Campus and College are probably too close for comfort. Hire an attorney immediately! Don’t reply or negotiate without one. I tried and it cost 70K. Good luck.

  28. Rick Pearlstein Says:

    Greetings,

    My name is Rick Pearlstein and I host the Freedom & Liberty Show on blogtalkradio.com. I just ran across your story and will be talking about it on my show today, 27 NOV 09 at 4:00 Central. As a matter of fact I’ll be leading with it.

    I’m sick and tired of corporations using the force and violence of government to restrict competition. Especially when in your case it’s not even competition, it’s just picking on someone. How truly disgusting.

    You have my support man. If you could please send me a copy of the letter I would be happy to read that on the air as well.

    Please keep me informed with updates as you can.

    In Freedom,

    Rick Pearlstein

  29. JC Says:

    My friend are having a similar problem with a web site with completely different context and name because we are currently just ignoring it.

  30. The College Politico » Blog Archive » POLITICO Threatening Me Again Says:

    [...] you don’t know what I’m talking about check out these background posts from a while [...]

  31. Politico Mike Allen’s Identity Crisis - FishbowlDC Says:

    [...] Politico fumes escape from their nostrils into the airstream. And it’s not as if they ever went after a college kid in September 2009 for daring to use the word “politico” in a site [...]

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