September 18, 2020

CNN’s new series rankles legal blog with same name

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above-the-lawBy Nell Gluckman, The Am Law Daily

The legal blog Above the Law wants to take on CNN.

The blog discovered late last week that CNNMoney had released a series on government debt collection, calling it “Above the Law.”

Elie Mystal, editor at large for Breaking Media, the legal blog’s publisher, says at first he got angry at the perceived trademark infringement. “Immediately after taking some pot shots on Twitter, we elevated it up the flag pole of our organization,” he says.

But rather than turn straight to outside counsel, the blog—which was started by former federal prosecutor David Lat in 2006—turned to its readers. Mystal wrote a post Thursday seeking volunteers among its legally savvy followers to apply to write a cease-and-desist letter that the blog could send to CNN claiming infringement. Interested readers are being asked to submit a summary of their argument along with a paragraph about themselves and an optional meme or gif that describes the case.

“To be serious, we have to defend our mark,” says Mystal. “We risk dilution of the mark if we don’t defend it.”

The CNNMoney series details a practice used by government agencies across the country of hiring private law firms to go after debtors. The story, which runs online but was also featured on TV, focuses on the aggressive methods used by the Texas firm Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson and the stories of the people they went after. An air force major who was sued by the firm for not paying property taxes while he was on active military duty is quoted saying the firm was holding itself “above the law.”

The blog’s trademark has been registered, though Mystal says in his post, “we hardly need to register given the robust New York laws protecting us from this kind of infringement.”

On Friday afternoon, the blog had received only one submission, which won’t make the cut, but Mystal is looking forward to what the weekend may bring.

IP lawyer Ben Davidson, a solo in Los Angeles, says the blog may have a case. “I’ve seen weaker arguments made by plaintiffs that that’s a famous mark and there’s an argument for dilution,” he says.

But he adds that there’s an even stronger case to be made that it’s confusing to consumers, who may mistakenly think that the two Above the Laws are affiliated. Even though the blog has a sophisticated and specific consumer base, “not every consumer has to be confused for there to be infringement,” says Davidson.

As for CNN, whose general counsel did not return a call seeking comment from The Am Law Daily, it may also have a case that the phrase “above the law” is a common expression in the English language, first coined not by Lat, but in a 1988 Steven Seagal film, says Davidson.

Above the Law’s campaign against CNN could have the effect of generating some hype among its fan base and create a headache for the news network. Mystal, however, says if none of the reader submissions are up to snuff, the blog will turn to outside counsel.

For more on this story go to: http://www.americanlawyer.com/id=1202719237122/CNNs-New-Series-Rankles-Legal-Blog-With-Same-Name#ixzz3TF5za81g

 

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