Court Upholds Website Criticizing Company Founded by Leader of Tiananmen Square Protests

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Court Upholds Website Criticizing Company Founded by Leader of Tiananmen Square Protests

Court Backs Public Citizen, Decides That Use of Trademarked Name in Website’s Meta Tags Does Not Constitute Infringement

WASHINGTON - Including a company’s trademarked name in the meta tags of a website
does not violate trademark rules, a Massachusetts superior court judge
ruled this week.

An award-winning documentary company Long Bow Group made a film
about the historic 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in China, which
featured Ling Chai, a student leader in the protests. Chai now runs the
company Jenzabar Inc., which makes software for colleges and
universities, and didn’t like the way she was portrayed in Long Bow’s
film, so she sued over the website about the film, making several
claims.

After her claims of defamation fell flat, Chai proceeded with claims
of trademark infringement and dilution – based on Long Bow’s use of the
name “Jenzabar” among the meta tags on pages about that firm on the
film’s website. Both claims failed this week in Boston’s Suffolk County
Superior Court when Judge John Cratsley ruled that Long Bow’s inclusion
of the software company’s name in its meta tags was protected as fair
use.

“Meta tags are noncommercial speech that truthfully describe a
subject of the Web page and should be protected by the First Amendment,”
argued Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney defending Long Bow.
“Furthermore, the use of Jenzabar’s name does not constitute a trademark
violation and the entire lawsuit was frivolous. The court came down on
the right side of free speech.”

Jenzabar failed to meet the criteria for a trademark suit, Cratsley
ruled. The company had no evidence that the use of its name on Long
Bow’s website confused visitors about the site’s sponsors. Even if some
users came to the website from a search engine, expecting to get to
Jenzabar’s own website, such transitory confusion is not enough to make
out a claim under the trademark laws. Additionally, at the top of the
Web page where Long Bow discussed Jenzabar, the documentary makers
posted a disclaimer clarifying that it had nothing to do with the
software company.

Long Bow’s main Web page about Jenzabar, which has contained the meta tags at issue in the case since 1999, is http://www.tsquare.tv/film/jenzabar.html.

Long Bow’s local counsel, who handled the case until Public Citizen
stepped in last fall, are Chris Donnelly and Adam Ziegler of Donnelly,
Conroy & Gelhaar in Boston.

To read more about this case, visit: http://www.citizen.org/litigation/forms/cases/getlinkforcase.cfm?cID=575.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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