30 October 2017Trademarks

Gagging order lifted from comic book group ahead of trademark trial

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has dismissed rulings from a lower court which barred the organisers of a comic convention from commenting on or publicising documents in a trademark infringement dispute.

On Thursday, October 26, a three-judge panel dismissed two rulings by the US District Court for the Southern District of California, stating that both rulings were unconstitutional.

“The district court clearly erred in determining that petitioners’ speech presents a serious and imminent threat to a fair trial and that less restrictive alternatives to a prior restraint on speech were unavailable,” the ruling read.

As reported by WIPR, The dispute stems from a complaint filed by the San Diego Comic Book Convention (SDCC) against the Salt Lake Comic Book Convention in July 2014 claiming that four of the SDCC’s trademarks incorporating the term ‘Comic-Con’ had been infringed.

The Salt Lake Comic Book Convention then claimed the marks were generic, as there are hundreds of such comic book conventions across the US.

US District Court Judge Anthony Battaglia ordered a jury trial on the issue for next month, and subsequently barred the Salt Lake Book Convention from publicising information about the dispute.

He stated that the Salt Lake Book Convention’s website, Facebook and Twitter posts, which included commentary and information on the case, would “irretrievably taint” the jury.

He handed down two rulings, the first of which stated that a disclaimer must be put on the Salt Lake Book Convention website explaining details of the gagging order. After the SDCC complained that this was breached, he issued another ruling completely barring the Salt Lake Comic Book Convention from speaking about the case.

Both orders were dismissed by Circuit Judges Kim Wardlaw, Ronald Gould and Paul Watford on Thursday.

They further added that the orders “prohibit speech that poses neither a clear and present danger nor a serious and imminent threat to SDCC’s interest in a fair trial”.

The ruling added: “The loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.”

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