Federal Judge Gives Salt Lake Comic Con a Tongue Lashing

SAN DIEGO (CN) — Quoting “I Love Lucy,” a federal judge Thursday told Salt Lake Comic Con, “You’ve got some ‘splaining to do,” and warned the group about its public comments during the trademark fight with San Diego Comic-Con.

After a three-hour hearing, U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia ordered Dan Farr Productions, the company behind Salt Lake Comic Con, to take down all the content on its website and social media pages that referred to the 3-year-old trademark case filed by San Diego Comic Convention.

As of Friday, the litigation webpage attached to the Salt Lake Comic Con website had been removed, but press releases and links to media coverage on the lawsuit were still live.

San Diego’s world famous comic and arts convention, held in the city since 1970, sued Dan Farr for its use of the mark “Comic Con,” which it claims led the public to believe the Utah convention was associated with the hyphenated one in San Diego.

Salt Lake Comic Con contends “Comic Con” is used to advertise more than 100 similar events across the country and that San Diego Comic-Con failed to enforce its trademark. Battaglia refused to dismiss the case last week, paving the way for a trial late this year.

The case is being watched by other comic convention organizers across the country, as it could determine whether they can use “Comic Con” in their title.

Battaglia told Dan Farr’s attorneys he downloaded a web page from the Salt Lake Comic Con website before the Thursday hearing, and found 47 pages of content he called “a disturbing display … that appears, frankly, to violate the court’s orders.”

He said the web page, “SLCC vs. SDCC,” contained “editorializing” and links to news releases that discussed the litigation at length, and he found “most disturbing of all” an entry soliciting readers’ email addresses so they could “stay informed” about the case.

Battaglia said he was concerned about preserving the jury pool. He said the defendant’s online conduct, coupled with media attention to the case, is one reason he will require potential jurors to answer a questionnaire on their exposure to the case through media.

Battaglia had already issued three orders this summer, requiring Dan Farr to put a disclosure on its online content, stating that Salt Lake Comic Con and its organizers were ordered not to discuss the litigation.

San Diego Comic-Con requested a finding of contempt of court, saying Dan Farr violated the court’s orders and continued to publicly discuss the case.

Dan Farr’s attorneys told Battaglia that because he did not include a retroactive clause in the suppression order he signed this summer, Farr did not believe he needed to take down any of the website content that already had been posted.

But San Diego Comic Con attorney Michelle Herrera told Battaglia that she and her team had “many telephone conversations” with Farr’s attorneys over the summer to get them to comply with the judge’s previous orders, including asking Dan Farr to adjust its websites so the court-ordered disclaimer was displayed prominently.

Herrera cited comments on Salt Lake Comic Con’s Facebook page, news releases and comments on one of the Salt Lake Comic Con’s organizer’s personal Facebook pages about “fighting the good fight” against San Diego Comic-Con as some of the many examples of the defendants’ attempt to litigate the case in the media.

Dan Farr attorney Rex Sears suggested his clients’ First Amendment rights were being restricted and said one of the organizers even “abandoned his Twitter account” and was “being silenced entirely.”

“The notion we were engaging in some sort of twisted reading of the court’s order is unfair,” Sears said. “The question should never be, ‘Where are they allowed to exercise free speech?’ It should be, ‘When are they excluded?’”

Battaglia declined to find Farr in contempt of court, but warned that if there were any violations of his orders from now on, he would send criminal contempt charges to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“I find not all of the excuses add up, but at the end of the day, it’s a complicated matter,” Battaglia said.

He ordered Dan Farr purge or disable any web content on its website and social media sites that offer any comments about the litigation.

He ordered the “litigation” web page linked to the Salt Lake Comic Con website “immediately purged,” and gave Dan Farr until next week to kill or disable the rest of its web content on the lawsuit.

The annual Salt Lake Comic-Con is this weekend.

The trial is set for Nov. 28.

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