Technical/legal questions about a site that will parody a trademarked brand
December 22, 2009 7:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of creating a political parody website that may step on some toes and/or trademarks. I have a few technical and legal questions about how best to go about this.

So I had an idea for lambasting a prominent political party in the United States. I was shocked to find that a really obvious domain name for that party was available, but it may infringe upon a trademark for that party.

I know YANAL and YANML, but a little guidance as to the prudent first steps here would be appreciated. I would assume (but correct me if I'm wrong) that free-speech protections of satire and parody may protect me from some of the trademark issues. But I also sense that those lines may become fuzzier if I ever appear to draw a profit from the site. Is there anything I can do to reasonably ensure that my site is on firm legal ground without the cost of consulting an actual attorney?

On more of a technical level, does anyone know of a good hosting company that could be relied upon to keep the site running even if they got big scary letters on legal stationery from that political party?

This idea is still in the brainstorming stages, so I'm probably imagining a bigger future for it than will realistically happen... but I'd rather be overprepared than underprepared.
posted by Riki tiki to Law & Government (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You might want to look over the recent situation Glenn Beck was involved in.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:08 PM on December 22, 2009

I am not the OP's lawyer. A good resource is Stanford's Copyright & Fair Use Center.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:20 PM on December 22, 2009

Best answer: The EFF has a couple of good pages as well: Trademarks and Domain Names and Blogger's Legal Guide.

As for a host, if you want to host it in the U.S., Nearly Free is generally regarded for living up to their name. I found a list of supposedly reliable hosts you might want to try. Otherwise, you could want to seek a host outside the United States, and I don't know of any hosts in that category.
posted by fireoyster at 8:27 PM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Check out the stories of and
posted by Kirklander at 9:15 PM on December 22, 2009

Is there anything I can do to reasonably ensure that my site is on firm legal ground without the cost of consulting an actual attorney?

Is there anything you can do to get that pesky chest pain checked out without actually consulting a doctor? (In other words, no.) Without having a legal review of the specific facts of your proposed idea, anything you hear on MeFI is worse than worthless, it's downright dangerous. Trying to do it on the cheap? Much more expensive in the long run.

Even if you do, however, speak with a lawyer, there's no such thing as "firm legal ground" when you're talking about trademark infringement - especially when you're talking about parody - because it's pretty much all grey area. Yes, you CAN get sued, but you might win and you might not. Depends on the judge; depends on the jury. Political parody is probably safer than other forms of parody, but there are no guarantees.

If you want firm legal ground, you won't do this. You'll sell life insurance or become an auto mechanic instead. If you want to do political parody of major players -and- profit from it, you'll have to accept some risk.

Good luck.
posted by mikewas at 11:44 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's possible to host something overseas nearly anonymously (Malaysia, for example) using prepaid VISA gift cards and somewhat shady hosting operations. There are a lot of countries, partcularly in eastern Europe, that will not take down a website just because it mocks some American political institution. Your main threat will be having the domain name itself jacked (by legal process within the US) to change your domain's DNS settings.
posted by thewalrus at 11:01 AM on December 23, 2009

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