A federal appeals court has lifted a gag order imposed in a nasty trademark fight over use of the popular Comic Con convention name, ruling the Salt Lake Comic Con can’t be prohibited from talking about or even posting actual court documents in the case.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the “sweeping set of suppression orders” by a San Diego judge on any comment on the case by the Salt Lake Comic Con owner, Dan Farr Productions, amounted to prior restraint on speech in violation of the first amendment.
The San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) filed the original trademark violation claim over the use of the “comic-con” or “comic con” marks. The San Diego convention is oen of many around the country. It is a comic book conviction that showcases science fiction and fantasy-related film, TV and comic book characters, stories and pop culture arts.
As the case was proceeding through the court the Salt Lake event owner participated in public discussions on the internet and through social media, including Twitter and Facebook. As a result the San Diego plaintiffs won sweeping suppression orders from the court barring the defendants from expressing views on pending litigation and even from republishing public court documents.
Salt Lake defendants filed a challenge to the gag order.
“Petitioners’ speech does not constitute a serious and imminent threat to SDCC’s right to a fair trial,” the three-judge panel wrote.
“This civil trademark infringement action involves issues that are far more banal than the subject matters of the criminal trials in which pretrial publicity has presented serious constitutional problems,” the panel noted. “And, as we have long held, pretrial publicity is less likely to threaten the fairness of trial in a large metropolitan area,” the court said.
The strongly worded order went on to state: “Unless other cases involving attorneys or the press, grisly crimes or national security, the district court’s orders silence one side of a vigorously litigation, run-of-the-mill civil trademark proceeding.” The court called the order “unmoored from the interest they purport to protect.”
The court lifted the gag order.
Case: In re: Farr Productions; Far productions v. US Dist. Court for San Diego, No. 17-72682