Trademark Proposals Could Threaten Free Speech; Media Groups Claim Satire and Comparative Advertising at Risk

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Trademark proposals could threaten free speech

New York City--Media groups are expressing concern over proposed changes in a recently passed trademark law that could, they claim, infringe on advertising, product reviews and satire.

The proposed changes, which would be added to the Trademark Law Revision Act that Congress passed last November, include the following: . Expanding false advertising lawsuits to include "omission of material information." This, say media groups, could restrict comparative advertising: If a Brand Y advertiser compares its product to Brand X, for example, the Brand X manufacturer could take Brand Y to court if it feels the ad doesn't present all the facts. . Allowing lawsuits against acts that are likely to disparage a product. Some media groups believe that a restaurant, for example, could sue if it felt a magazine's review is disparaging. . Prohibiting the dilution of "famous marks." Although this is designed to protect a trademark from being appropriated or misused, some media groups fear the provision could crimp satire and parody.

For the media groups, the situation is deja vu: The groups had already successfully lobbied against these same proposals before the Trademark Act passed in November. Even though the act passed without the proposals, the United States Trademark Association is now reviving them, claiming that many groups had objected to having them removed.

Currently, the USTA plans to bring together the opposing groups in an attempt to build coalition and understanding before dealing with the proposals again, according to executive director Robin Rolfe.

Media groups, including the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA), the National Newspaper Association (NNA), the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), want to keep the Trademark Act the way it is.

"With those corrections we supported (the Trademark Act's) passage," says MPA senior vice president David Lee. …