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Lawyers Tell Blockshopper: Not in Our Backyards!

It must have been some sort of litigation sixth sense that brought me back to write last week about Chicago BlockShopper, the Web site that reports on real estate sales in Chicago's Lincoln Park and Lake View neighborhoods. Little did I realize as I wrote that post that some of the lawyers whose home purchases were profiled were so upset that they filed suit against Blockshopper. Blogger R. David Donoghue reported the lawsuit Aug. 14 at his Chicago IP Litigation Blog, and next week's National Law Journal will have this report, already available online.

The law firm Jones Day filed the lawsuit in federal court Aug. 12 after two of its associates showed up on the site. The suit alleges trademark infringement and unfair trade practices, based on Blockshopper's use of the firm's service marks, links to its site and use of lawyers' photos from its site. The firm's request for a TRO was resolved when Blockshopper removed all references to Jones Day from its site, according to Donoghue, but the law firm continues to seek an injunction shutting down the site.

NLJ reporter Lynne Marek writes that Jones Day offered to take $10,000 to settle the lawsuit if the site stopped reporting on lawyers from the firm. But Blockshopper president Brian Timpone -- a defendant in the suit -- told the NLJ that the company will not settle on those terms.

Bending to the law firm's demands to stop coverage of the firm's lawyers would strangle the company's business model of using public records and publicly available Internet information, he said. Blockshopper, founded by former newspaper industry professionals, considers itself a next generation media outlet entitled to First Amendment protections just like any other news organization, he said.

"If we don't fight it, Jones Day could do this to any news organization or any blog," Timpone said. "You would completely throttle the Internet if you required online journalists and bloggers to get permission before linking."

Other firms are exploring their own lawsuits, the NLJ notes. But their concern may be less one of legalities than of overexposure. As one associate profiled by Blockshopper told the NLJ, "It was somewhat disturbing because now if you Google me in Chicago this is one of the first things that comes up." In this age of electronically enhanced transparency, this whole dust-up reflects a sentiment I encounter time and again: "We like our public records to be public -- just not too public." I don't know the finer legal points of Blockshopper's possible use of photos and trademarks from other sites, but I don't see how there can be any dispute as to its bottom-line First Amendment right to report on the contents of public records and link to the Web sites of persons named in those records.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 4, 2008 at 12:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)


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