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The Wright Perspective℠

Social Commentary from the C-Suite to Main Street℠

A Blog by Gary Wright II

Legal Bullies: Nissan Motors and the FBI

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Some days (but not many) I wish I was a lawyer. Our justice system has an important purpose, but our society has become litigious to the point of being ridiculous. It really irks me when a large company or organization uses the legal system to bully the little guys. Many times, a lawsuit is filed knowing that the defendant is in the right, but lacks the financial resources to defend itself through a protracted legal battle.

Two cases of abuse come to mind: Nissan Motors versus Nissan Computers and the FBI versus Wikipedia.

The FBI is threatening legal action against online encyclopedia Wikipedia for posting their insignia on their page about the FBI. So far, Wikipedia isn't backing down and I admire them for that. Did the FBI think the nonprofit wouldn't defend themselves? Wikipedia received a threatening letter from the FBI's general counsel demanding they remove the logo because it was "used without permission." Did their attorney think no one would actually read the law cited in their own letter? You see, the FBI only quoted a portion of the law and they conveniently left out the part of the law which makes the whole argument invalid. The law they (partially) quoted only applies to physical items such as badges, ID cards, etc.

A hypothetical case: Copyright infringement. Since federal agencies are funded by our tax dollars - wouldn't that mean their property belongs to all of us? There is also an important exception to copyright law that allows free use for educational purposes. Wikipedia is clearly an educational web site and is not making money from their use of the logo and is not using the symbol to impersonate the agency. In my opinion, Wikipedia has done nothing wrong and the FBI is just trying to bully them. I must not be the only person irritated by this ordeal because people are now posting the FBI logo all over the Internet, and yes - without their permission. Doesn't the FBI have more important things to do with their / our resources?

Another legal attack that annoys me is the case of Nissan Motors against the owner of Nissan.com. The web site owner uses the site to promote his computer business and Nissan happens to actually be his last name. He has used his last name in his business for over twenty years. That was long before Nissan even existed (they were known as Datsun back then), yet Nissan Motors claims the guy is cyber-squatting and has been asking the courts to transfer the domain name to them. They also wanted $10 million from the poor guy for "trademark infringement" and "trademark dilution."

The law is pretty clear. To be cyber-squatting, the domain name must be purchased with the intent to extort money from the trademark owner. To infringe on a trademark, it has to be used in the same type of business. Example: Acme Funeral Home wouldn't be infringing on Acme Computers. To be trademark dilution, the requirements are similar: Acme Pizza may be seen as confusingly similar to Acme Calzones and diluting the mark.

The case of Nissan vs. Nissan was started in 1999 and has now seen fifteen major court actions and Nissan Motors is still going after the guy. This whole situation is an abuse of our legal system:

12/1999 - Initial Filing of Lawsuit
4/2002 - Ruling on First Round of Summary Judgements
9/2002 - Second Round of Summary Judgement
12/2002 - District Court Final Injunction
10/2003 - Appeal Initial Motion
1/2004 - Appeal Reply Motion
8/2004 - 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Ruling
12/2004 - Petition to the US Supreme Court
4/2005 - US Supreme Court Order Issued
1/2007 - Motion to strike Jury Demand
3/2007 - Bench Trial
9/2007 - Ruling
1/2008 - Motion For Attorney Fees
2/2008 - Ruling on Attorney Fees and Final Judgement
3/2008 - Nissan Motors requests trademark registration for computer services (If you can't beat 'em - Join 'em?)

This is crazy! How does a small business owner defend itself against a huge corporation like this? Mr. Nissan has done nothing wrong and the attacks by Nissan Motors are an attempt to bully him into releasing the domain name. For this reason, I'm starting a boycott against Nissan Motors.

To see the legal documents for yourself, visit: http://www.digest.com/Big_Story.php

There's a popular chant by activists that says, "No Justice - Just Us!" Unless you are rich and powerful, that saying just might be true...

Best regards,

-- Gary Wright II

NOTE: These are my own personal opinions and should not be construed as legal advice. For all legal matters, always consult an attorney.

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