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A Decade After Realizing It Can't Threaten A Critic Online, UCLA Returns To Threaten A Critic Online

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Back in the early days of Techdirt, we used to talk about legal disputes involving so-called "sucks sites" -- i.e., web addresses that use a company or organizations' name along with a disparaging adjective, in order to setup a website criticizing the company. In the early 2000s there were a bunch of legal disputes in which overly aggressive lawyers would threaten and/or sue the operators of such sites, claiming they were trademark infringement. Spoiler alert: they were not trademark infringement. There was never any confusion over whether or not the sites were actually endorsed by the trademark-holder (because the sites were criticizing the trademark holder.) Nor, in most cases, was there any commercial activity, which is necessary for a trademark violation.For the most part, lawyers have finally learned that going after sucks sites is a bad idea and we don't hear of as many cases these days. But they do sometimes pop up. The latest is particularly stupid, involving the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The details are laid out for you nicely by Adam Steinbaugh of FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), an organization focused on protecting free speech on campus.You see, UCLA had done this before. Way back in 2009 it had threatened a critical site run by a former student:

In 2009, the university sent a letter to former student Tom Wilde, alleging that his website's domain names, ucla-weeding101.info and .com, infringed on the university's trademarks and amounted to a criminal act under California Education Code Section 92000, which purports to authorize public universities to police virtually any use of their name or acronym. FIRE wrote to UCLA in 2009, explaining that the First Amendment protects cybergriping websites and noting that the university's purported authority under the California Education Code was contrary to the university's obligations under the First Amendment.After some hesitance, UCLA backed down.
But, as you likely guessed, they've done it again. And, here's the real kicker: UCLA sent a letter to the same guy over the same website. As Steinbaugh notes, the latest letter is less threatening and more friendly, talking about giving Wilde a "friendly reminder" and asking as a "courtesy" for him to "remedy" his claimed misuses of UCLA's trademark and... building images (?!?). FIRE again took up the case, reminding UCLA of what happened a decade ago and asking it to retract the letter. Incredibly, UCLA refused to do so, saying that Wilde was creating confusion by using similar images and design. However, a quick comparison of the two sites suggests that no one is going to be confused that the one on the left is officially a part of the one on the right:
UCLA also had claimed in its new letter that it sent that in response to "an inquiry" about Wilde's site. FIRE filed a public records request to find out who the hell "inquired." Turns out: it was a UCLA staff member on the external affairs team who sent an email pointing to the site and saying:
Grumpy former student has created this FB page and websitewas thinking that the Royce Hall image and use of UCLA in the domain name might both be no-nos.
This was under the subject "protecting the brand."Right. So this wasn't someone confused about the site. It was someone who thought that they could go after a site that was critical of UCLA by abusing trademark law -- something that has long been a non-starter, and which is an insult to the First Amendment.You know how you protect your brand? By not threatening critics with a potential legal attack over First Amendment protected speech. And, also, not doing that twice.

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Bizarre: TrustedReviews Pulls Website Reporting on 'Red Dead' Leak, Pays More Than A Million To Charities Of Rockstar's Choice

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When it comes to the private sector, it's not rare thing to see lawsuits over press leaks. Typically, those lawsuits target the person or entity responsible for the leak itself. While the real irritation in these leaks for companies comes from seeing them reported in the press, suing the press for reporting on a leak is fraught with statutory barriers.Which is what makes it so odd to discover that TrustedReviews, a website that publishes news and reviews in the video game industry, disappeared an article it posted months ago discussing leaked information on the now released Red Dead Redemption 2. Oh, and it agreed to pay over a million dollars to charities of Rockstar's choice.

The British website TrustedReviews today pulled an article, apologized to publisher Take-Two Games, and said it was donating 1 million pounds ($1.3 million) to charity after publishing leaked information about Red Dead Redemption 2 in February of this year. It’s a radical move that raises serious questions about editorial independence and legal threats against the press.TrustedReviews, which is owned by TI Media (formerly Time Inc, UK), is a technology website that publishes deals and reviews. In February, it published an article, sourcing a leaked internal Rockstar document, that listed details from Red Dead Redemption 2, which would come out eight months later. The article contained a list of bullet-points that claimed, among other things, that you’d be able to play all of Red Dead 2 in first-person (true) and that the online component would have a battle royale mode (to be determined).
Reporting on leaks of this sort is common, of course, particularly in the entertainment industries. While content companies have attempted to sue over everything from leaks to publishing spoilers, these threats and suits rarely go anywhere. If press freedoms in a given country are at all a thing, reporting from confidential sources on leaks is almost always included. The UK has its "State Secrets" nonsense, but that doesn't apply here.Which makes all of this bizarre. Adding to the whole thing is TrustedReviews bending over backwards to fully apologize publicly, not in any way lamenting this outcome.
“On February 6, 2018, we published an article that was sourced from a confidential corporate document,” the website now reads. “We should have known this information was confidential and should not have published it. We unreservedly apologise to Take-Two Games and we have undertaken not to repeat such actions again. We have also agreed to donate over £1 million to charities chosen by Take-Two Games.”
Nothing about this makes sense, unless TrustedReviews was somehow involved in the leak itself, rather than simply reporting on it. There is nothing publicly suggesting that is the case, so we're instead left to assume that the site simply didn't want to engage in a costly lawsuit brought by Rockstar, who we have to assume threatened one. On the other hand, a $1.3 million payout isn't exactly peanuts either.Frustratingly, everyone appears to be in the dark here. If only another press outlet could obtain a leak of what exactly the hell is going on here, we might get some clarity.

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