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?”