Appeals court lifts gag order placed on salt lake in comic con name battle; trial set for nov. 28 salt lake comic con heraldextra.com jokes gas prices

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After several months of radio silence, Salt Lake Comic Con co-founders Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg are once again sharing with the public their side of the story in a name-game battle with San Diego Comic-Con International over use of the term “comic con,” thanks to the ruling of an appeals court overturning a district court mandate.

The battle between comic conventions has been raging with moves back and forth for nearly three years now since San Diego sued Salt Lake, but one of the most recent was a “protective order” requested by San Diego on July 6 that was essentially a gag order. The order forced Salt Lake Comic Con founders to not only cease discussion of the case through social channels but also prohibited statements that accuse San Diego of lying or fraud, statements regarding the genericness of the term “comic con” or how descriptive it is and statements about San Diego abandoning trademarks.

To top it off, Salt Lake Comic Con also had to post a disclaimer in a prominent position on their site and social media that stated the district court “has ordered that no editorial comments, opinions, or conclusions about the litigation may be made on social media and that no highlights or summaries of the status of the proceedings or the evidence presented will be made on social media.”

“What was even worse was we were busy marketing our (September) event and there was a big, obtrusive notice from the court on our home page that was the first thing people see,” Brandenburg said of the district court’s requirements. “It was a notice that we can’t talk about the case. We were gagged and couldn’t defend ourselves. Now we feel really vindicated that we were right all along.”

According to Brandenburg, he and Farr appealed the order almost immediately, but it wasn’t until this week that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in their favor that the court-ordered prior restraints violated their First Amendment rights to free speech.

As background on the case, San Diego Comic-Con issued a “cease and desist” letter to Salt Lake Comic Con in 2014, requiring the Utah convention to remove the term “comic con” from its event name, stating it was confusingly similar to the California convention, and the trademark it holds for the term “comic-con.”

Salt Lake Comic Con refused, and nearly three years of slow legal progress have ensued, with Salt Lake Comic Con arguing that the term “comic con” is generic, was used by other conventions prior to San Diego’s, that the California convention abandoned a trademark for that term in specific after arguments of its generic use and that there are hundreds of other conventions that utilize the term now, with no ties to San Diego.

However, the ruling continued, stating, “The orders at issue are unconstitutional prior restraints on speech. They prohibit speech that poses neither a clear and present danger nor a serious and imminent threat to (San Diego Comic-Con)’s interest in a fair trial. The well-established doctrines on jury selection and the court’s inherent management powers provide an alternative, less restrictive means of ensuring a fair trial.”

“I think it’s great that we still have a constitution and we were really disappointed when the Southern California District Court took away our freedom of speech rights regarding talking about the case in any fashion,” Brandenburg said of the ruling. “So we felt a great victory appealing that to the Ninth Circuit. The court came back unanimous, agreeing that our First Amendment rights had been violated. We think it’s going to be a very valuable thing moving forward.”

With the right to free speech regarding the case restored, Brandenburg said Salt Lake Comic Con and Dan Farr Productions (which runs the convention) now plan to crowdsource to gain assistance with the extensive legal fees the ongoing case has demanded.

“Dan and I just decided that we’re going to go to our fans and ask them to support us, and we felt like we needed to show them that we were making sacrifices, too, to defend ourselves,” Brandenburg said of giving up the car. “It made sense. It was not an easy decision, but it’s just a car and we’d rather have this thing behind us.”

“We have shown with evidence in the Trademark Office that the trademark that they’re using to go after us is ‘comic-con,’ that they obtained in 2006, but back in 1995, they tried to get a trademark for ‘comic con,’ ” Brandenburg said as background to the new evidence.

“In 2005, they came back and filed an application for ‘comic-con’ and the Trademark Office came back and said we can’t give you that trademark because comic-con is descriptive, comic as in comic book and con as in convention,” Brandenburg said. “San Diego came back and filed a secondary declaration that said, ‘We understand it’s descriptive, but we’ve been using it exclusively and continuously for 36 years.’ If all other comic cons didn’t even exist, that would still be false.”

“Over a period of 47 years, there have been literally hundreds of comic con events that until 2014 (San Diego) did nothing to police,” Brandenburg said, supporting not only a case of genericide, meaning comic con is a generic term, but also abandonment, because San Diego hasn’t enforced its trademark.

View the full history of the legal battle between Salt Lake Comic Con and San Diego Comic-Con at saltlakecomiccon.com, or see the complete Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling here. You can also keep updated on Daily Herald coverage of Salt Lake Comic Con at heraldextra.com/comiccon.