What is SLAPP?
SLAPP is an acronym that stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. A SLAPP is a lawsuit or a threat of lawsuit to intimidate and silence criticism by overwhelming the critic with legal work and fees until the criticism is given up. Generally a SLAPP refers to a lawsuit filed in response to a person speaking out. There have been many SLAPP suits, unfortunately,
You might find yourself the victim of a SLAPP for posting a website criticizing a CEO or major corporation like Ford, or American Express, Wal-Mart, McDonald's, Sprint Nextel, or Starbucks. You might find yourself the victim of a SLAPP for posting a comment on another person's blog about a major corporation, or for reporting about misconduct or alleged misconduct by a corporation. Corporations usually initiate most SLAPPs. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, however, corporations have access to virtually unlimited resources when it comes squashing criticism. They have countless lawyers and a seemingly endless budget. Unfortunately, only 25 states have enacted legislature protection against SLAPPs.
In the U.S. injustice system, a winning defendant is not usually entitled attorneys' fees to cover the expense of legal defense. This means that, even if the claim fails miserably, you cannot recover your damages. Defamation and trademark infringement are the two most common bases for a SLAPP lawsuit. An corporation will most likely file a defamation or trademark infringement lawsuit in reaction to criticism or negative comments published about them. With the Internet being the largest audience, corporations do not tolerate negative publicity about them. Trademark fair use, is generally the best defense against a SLAPP suit. There have been so many trademark fair use cases to use as precedents. We have listed a few below.
A cyber SLAPP is a SLAPP based on online criticism. Maybe you have written a blog posting or website about your negative experience with a company. If the company finds out about it, you may receive a cease and desist letter threatening you. If you are going to criticize a major corporation, the best thing you can do is to do it anonymously using an email address from anonymous speech who does not store any information about your identity such as your IP address, name, or anything that would identify you later.
Economics Professor, Ken Stone, of Iowa State University, did a study on the Impact of the Wal-Mart Phenomenon on Rural Communities.
One famous SLAPP suit was Walmart's attempt to shut down Charles Smith's criticism. Charles used the Internet for marketing merchandise related to criticism of Walmart. Walmart's argument was that Charles violated trademark law with his websites walocaust.com and walqaeda.com. The corporation asked the court for an injunction banning him from selling the merchandise and for the Court to give it ownership of the websites. A federal district court judge ruled that Walmart had no legitimate grounds to shut down the criticism. The Judge ruled that the merchandise and websites were parodies and that his main goal was not to profit but to publicly criticize the company. Charles went to the ACLU and Public Citizen, who filed a lawsuit asking the Court to uphold the protection of the First Amendment and free speech. Walmart filed a SLAPP, alleging trademark infringement. Walmart isn't the only one trying to use trademark law to shut down online criticism. We can think of quite of few other cases like Ford.
Starbucks is another company who sued an individual for posting criticism about their company. Starbucks claimed among other things that the parody tarnished the Starbucks trademark. The judge ruled that the logo was tarnished because of the word "whore." The logo still exists because the judge ruled people can continue using and distributing his logo, but he can't sell it for profit.
This site FordReallySucks.com, is a classic example of corporate trademark fair use, the transformation alone is all that is needed. Ford's lawsuit against them eventually failed as well and the website is still operational to this day.
And I cannot forget the most famous case of trademark fair use, parody, opinion, failed defamation and slander, and failed SLAPP lawsuit, McLibel. McDonald's tried desperately to shut this couple up from speaking out against their company. Boy they waste some McMillions of dollars trying to subdue freedom of speech. McDonald's CEO is Jim Skinner. You can contact Jim Skinner, McDonald's CEO, at the new website, Contact-A-CEO.com. If you are a dissatisfied or disgusted customer of McDonald's I am sure that he would love to hear what is on your mind.