Chamber hires attorney to fight its online critics

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce has hired a high-level Denver law firm to try to get a small Grand Valley group that is questioning some of its activities to stop using its name.

The chamber has hired Sabrina Stavish, an intellectual property attorney with one of Denver’s top patent, trademark and copyright law firms, Sheridan Ross, to clamp down on a fledgling effort to criticize the chamber over its involvement in politics, including helping to get candidates elected to office.

That effort, which started as a little-known Facebook page called Rein in the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, has created its own website, http://www.gjchamber.info.

The problem is, the chamber’s attorney says, that name is too close to the chamber’s website, http://www.gj
chamber.org.

“Your use of the identical name ‘gjchamber’ in your domain name with no additional wording ... is misleading and confusing to consumers and is actionable unfair competition under (federal law),” Stavish wrote in a Sept. 16 letter to Anne Landman, the Grand Junction woman who created the Facebook page and the website.

“We request that you immediately discontinue use of the http://www.gjchamber.info domain name and select a domain name that uniquely identifies your organization,” the letter says.

“You need to cease all actions that lead consumers ‘to think it’s the official GJ Chamber website ...’.”

Landman, however, said she has no intention of doing so.

She said she did make a few alterations to the website, including adding a disclaimer at the bottom that reads: “NOTE: This is not the official website of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. If it was, it wouldn’t be so darned critical of them.”

While Stavish said the matter centers on interfering with the chamber’s business activities, Landman said the issue is more a question of fair use, an exception to federal copyright laws that allows for commentary and criticism.

Regardless, Landman said the issue really isn’t about the name, but a bullying tactic by the chamber and its president, Diane Schwenke, who declined to comment on the matter.

“This shows that they’re pretty desperate,” Landman said, adding that she planned to post the letter on her website.

“I’m going to put this under the ‘bigotry, bullying and intimidation tab.’”

Denver media lawyer Stephen Zansberg said Stavish may have a case.

He said that while the federal law that Stavish cites, which is known as the Lanham Act, focuses more on competing business interests, purposely trying to confuse people into going to one’s website could be construed as doing just that.

“Citizen groups do have the right to critique both corporations and quasi-public, quasi-private corporations like the chamber,” he said.

“The issue is, can they do it without misleading people on the Internet into believing they are that entity that they’re criticizing?”


COMMENTS

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Couldn’t find a local attorney?

Waste of money. GJCinfo simply change something if they lose. I agree with “finding a local attorney.” So much for local support of business.

As noted on Facebook, the Chamber hired a lawyer outside the area…Why?  When researching domain names, guidelines are clear: You have a name that reflects the business or activity you are engaged in.  Domain names have a time limit and are paid for and at the time of registration are researched to make sure there are no other domain names that contrast or confuse search engines.  The Chamber in this issue essentially is saying that the people that access the Chambers’ domain vs the Anti-Chamber domain are uninformed and too stupid to know the difference.  Hiring a lawyer outside the area, hiring a “high level” lawyer that costs membership far more money then a local lawyer, and is easy money for the non-local lawyer, I say: Chamber members, this is another example of Schwenke and the Chamber board leaders making poor decisions on how to spend membership money.  When are the Chamber members going to wake up to this bleeding of Chamber assets.  I thought the Chamber was made up of “business” experts. I’m not a member nor a business person, but I hate financial waste and this is NOT a cost effective move.  This “threat” holds no legal standing and Stavish knows it. A good judge will throw this out as frivolous.  But at $300-$500 per hour, just to write the letter was real easy income and a waste for Chamber members. It accomplishes just what the “anti-Chamber” website wants….attention to the website.  Diane you are so predictable.

In my opinion it is a shame that the chamber has chosen to actively pursue an agenda that is divisive within their membership, has caused previous members to withdraw, and perhaps slowed membership growth over what it could have been.  At some point I hope that the chamber leadership will fairly re-evaluate the position they have taken with regard to the specific endorsement of political candidates to determine if the costs of such a position are worth the dwindling support and stature the chamber is suffering from in the community.  The surveys taken on the Internet seem self serving and developed to support no change in behavior.  Perhaps the chamber would consider a vote of the membership that was developed and overseen by a third party to make a determination as to the true wishes of the membership.  As it stands now, the majority may believe that the chamber has the correct policy.  The chamber saying so however is not helpful to their cause.

I spent significant time composing a thought out, civil response to this article.  Why has the daily Sentinel chosen not to include it in the comments section?

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