Attorneys at major law firms, including Bryan Cave, Jones Day and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, are finding themselves and their recent home purchases or sales in an Internet spotlight — and some of them aren’t too happy about it.
Blockshopper.com, a Web site that posts information about residential sales in Chicago, St. Louis, Las Vegas and south Florida, highlights lawyers, among other professionals, who recently bought or sold property by naming them, posting their photos and linking to their law firm Web site biographies.
Jones Day, which had two of associates show up on the site, found the coverage so objectionable that it recently sued the Chicago-based Internet company for trademark infringement in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
The unauthorized use is likely “to deceive and cause confusion and mistake among customers as to the source or origin of the services provided or offered for sale by the defendants and the affiliation of Jones Day with those services,” the firm said in the Aug. 12 lawsuit, Jones Day v. Blockshopper.com, No. 08-4572.
Paul Schroeder, the Jones Day intellectual property attorney leading the case, declined to comment. Jacob Tiedt and Dan Malone Jr., the two Jones Day associates whose condominium purchases appeared on the site, didn’t return calls seeking comment. For Tiedt, the Web piece headline read: “New Jones Day lawyer spends $760K on Sheffield” and included a map pinpointing his new residence, plus photos of him and his new home.
In its lawsuit, Jones Day cited service mark infringement, federal false designation of origin and unfair business practices under the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act, among other infractions. The firm said it’s seeking an injunction, damages and attorney fees.
Jones Day offered to take $10,000 to drop the lawsuit if the Web site stopped reporting on the firm, but the company isn’t caving, said Brian Timpone, president of two-year-old Blockshopper.
Bending to the law firm’s demands to stop coverage of the firm’s lawyers would strangle the company’s business model of using public records and publicly available Internet information, he said. Blockshopper, founded by former newspaper industry professionals, considers itself a next generation media outlet entitled to First Amendment protections just like any other news organization, he said.
“If we don’t fight it, Jones Day could do this to any news organization or any blog,” Timpone said. “You would completely throttle the Internet if you required online journalists and bloggers to get permission before linking.”
The company hired Fox, Hefter, Swibel, Levin & Carroll litigator Martin Carroll in Chicago to represent it in the case, but is also considering lawyers who specialize in First Amendment issues.
“Jones Day has their work cut out for them to come up with persuasive evidence that the average reasonable consumer of the Web site service will think that there’s some association between Jones Day and the Web site,” said Charles McManis, a law professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, who is also director of the intellectual property and technology law program.
While the Web site also features other professionals, including doctors, executives or others who are profiled on Web sites, lawyers tend to be a popular target for Blockshopper.com’s coverage.
“It’s tacky,” said Mark Silberman, a Duane Morris associate in Chicago whose home purchase was reported. While he recognizes that all the information posted on the site is publicly available, “it was somewhat disturbing because now if you Google me in Chicago this is one of the first things that comes up,” he said.
“I was pretty disconcerted to see that so-called ‘article,’ ” said Gerald Gardner, the assistant district attorney in Carson City, Nev., who was listed as having sold his four-bedroom home. “ As far as if there’s any legal action that can be taken, I don’t know. I’m probably not going to dwell on it.”
Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg managing partner Jerry Biederman, whose firm was cited with an associate’s home purchase, plans to have his lawyers look at whether Blockshopper.com is trespassing on intellectual property, privacy or other rights.
Michael Laycob, an attorney in the St. Louis office of Bryan Cave, and Elke Rehbock, an associate in the Chicago office of Skadden, who also had their transactions posted on the site, didn’t have any comment and neither did their firms.