Thursday, January 25, 2018

Republication of SPLC Hate Group Label Did Not Violate Lanham Act

The Southern Poverty Law Center  which tracks hate groups in the United States lists Liberty Counsel as an anti-LGBT hate group. GuideStar, an organization that provides information about non-profits to members of the public, picked up SLPC's hate group labels and included them in its descriptions of non-profits. In Liberty Counsel, Inc. v. GuideStar USA, Inc., (ED VA, Jan. 23, 2018), a Virginia federal district court dismissed a suit contending that GuideStar's republication of the hate group label for Liberty Counsel violated the Lanham Act.  The Lanham Act imposes civil liability on any person who "in a commercial advertising or promotion, misrepresents the nature, characteristics, qualities ... of ... another person's goods, services, or commercial activities...." The court held that GuideStar's use of SLPC's labels is not commercial speech, and thus is not covered by the Lanham Act, adding:
Defendant's review of Plaintiffs organization would fall under the laws of the First Amendment, not that of the Lanham Ac.... Specifically, Defendant has an expressive right to comment on social issues under the First Amendment.
In a press release announcing the decision, Liberty Counsel said it is considering an appeal.