Tina Renna, a transparency advocate whose focus is Union County government and who routinely reads aloud County resolutions on her TV program, was the plaintiff in this case and shared the story. It’s important reading for all open government activists. The key fact here: Government seals / logos cannot be trademarked — true for government agencies at all levels from federal to municipal. – NJFOG
The County Watchers
May 6, 2015
by Tina Renna
(Excerpts are posted below. Read the full article here.)
Almost four years after the Rutherford Institute filed a free speech lawsuit against Union County government over its efforts to censor a local TV show aired on Cranford’s local channel 35, in April 2015 a Judge approved my attorney’s fees in a total amount of $40,085.6S stating in part: This declaratory action was a direct result of the County’s baseless threats in its letters. Indeed, the very purpose of a cease-and-desist letter is to set the scene for litigation if the recipient does not obey…..
Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute, including Walter Luers, filed the lawsuit in 2011 after county officials ordered me to stop displaying the Union County Seal in the background of my public information show “Union County Citizen’s Forum” because it allegedly infringed on the County’s trademark rights.
My show, The Citizen’s Forum, simply featured me mostly reading county resolutions in which they appropriated funds. I did this because the county, unlike most municipalities, does not read their agenda items therefore people watching the meetings at home have no idea what they are voting to spend millions of dollars on.
In May 2014 in a resounding victory for the First Amendment, especially as it relates to freedom of the press, a federal court ruled in favor of my right to display Union County’s seal in the background of my public access television show. Ironically the seal features Hannah Caldwell, a hero of the American Revolution. Rejecting Union County’s claim that I was infringing on trademark protections associated with the seal, U.S. District Court Judge Kevin McNulty asserted that my use of the seal is protected by the First Amendment and that the County’s infringement claims were a baseless attempt to impede my free expression in the pursuit of increased government transparency. …
Judge Hammer found that there was an unusual discrepancy in the merits of the positions taken by the County and Renna. The County, Judge Hammer said, had asserted trademark rights that it knew, or should have known, did not exist. (R&R, 14). It had relied on federal and state trademark law, neither of which provide trademark protection to the “insignia” of a municipality. (Id. at 15). …
Read the full article here.