Business

Who owns 'Comic Con' name?

Lawsuit over name turns into free speech fight

Reuters

A woman dressed as a unicorn poses for a photograph with a group dressed as Deadpool during New York Comic Con in October.
Reuters A woman dressed as a unicorn poses for a photograph with a group dressed as Deadpool during New York Comic Con in October.

SAN DIEGO — A hotly contested lawsuit headed to trial in San Diego federal court soon over whether who, if anyone, owns the “comic con” name has turned into a fight over free speech.

The First Amendment squabble explores to what extent litigation can be tried in the media — be it in the traditional press or on social media — before a party’s right to a fair trial is violated.

In this case, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has spoken, last week issuing a ruling stating a San Diego federal judge went too far when he prohibited the producers of Salt Lake Comic Con from posting court documents and commentary on the case online. The three-judge panel called the lower court’s protective order unconstitutional and reversed it.

“Common sense (and the Constitution!) win in Comic Con gag order appeal,” Salt Lake Comic Con tweeted on Monday.

San Diego Comic-Con — the juggernaut of pop culture and comic book conventions — sued the producers of a Salt Lake comic convention in 2014, alleging trademark infringement on the use of “comic con” in its name.

The lawsuit came after the Salt Lake producers, Dan Farr of Dan Farr Productions and Bryan Brandenberg, ignored letters to cease-and-desist using the name, and after organizers drove around an Audi advertising its smaller Comic Con in the midst of San Diego’s convention.

Salt Lake producers countersued, alleging the phrase is descriptive and generic, used in some form or another by more than 100 similar conventions around the country.

After several unsuccessful attempts to settle, the case appears headed to trial beginning Nov. 28.

Attorneys on both sides declined to discuss the ruling Tuesday.

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