Tag Archives: commercial speech

Coffee Talk Regulation: The FTC Struggles (Like The Rest Of Us) With The Commercial Speech Question


By: Brian J. Meli

Returning to our long-running question of what constitutes commercial speech in the modern era (i.e. the era of advertising masquerading as “content”), we turn our attention to recent happenings over at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), that august institution tasked with protecting we the people from all things false, deceptive and misleading in advertising. The FTC recently became the latest organization to publicly grapple with the question of where the line between First Amendment protected non-commercial speech, and regulation-vulnerable commercial speech exists. For a look back at how the Supreme Court has dealt with the subject, and more recent Seventh Circuit and Ninth Circuit interpretations, follow the links.

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May The 4th Be With Your Brand: A Legal Guide To Making Star Wars Tributes

©iStock.com/Brendan Hunter

By: Brian J. Meli

Once every year, the inner sci-fi geek in all of us gets a chance to reclaim a sliver of that wide-eyed wonder of youth, and unite with like-minded souls in a nostalgic embrace of the pop-culture phenomenon that imbued an entire generation with the solemn precept, “may the force be with you.” Thirty-seven years after the original Star Wars movie hit the big screen, May the 4th has become a force all its own—a day fans across the world come together to pay their respects to the galaxy’s most culturally significant space drama (apologies to Star Trek fans) and to celebrate its enduring legacy. The amplifying effect of social media has only intensified the day’s popularity, raising awareness among casual fans, while inspiring new generations of Star Wars disciples.

But May the 4th has become more than just a commemoration for the young at heart. It’s also a time when marketing managers begin thinking up innovative ways to honor the Star Wars legacy. Increasingly the day has become an opportunity for Fortune 500 companies—eager to connect with the movies’ legions of adoring fans—to link their brands to the Star Wars mystique; a fact that’s becoming more apparent with each passing year. Here’s just a small sampling of what some companies have done to mark the day on social media.

Paying homage to the Star Wars universe is nothing new. The franchise is famous for inspiring fan-created content from all corners of the universe; everything from street art to homemade short films. And the vast majority of it is unauthorized. The practice is so widespread that George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, was forced to embrace it officially rather than risk alienating the loyal fan base that helped turn his obscure space opera into a cultural movement.

However, as Jedi Master Yoda was keen on saying, “always in motion the future is.” Changing the times are, and circumstances are very different now than when the original Star Wars trilogy was in its heyday. For starters, the Star Wars properties are no longer owned by Lucasfilm, Lucas’ eponymous production company, but by The Walt Disney Company, who purchased Lucasfilm in late 2012 and has since assumed the ambitious task of evolving the franchise for a new audience by investing heavily in its future success. For another, the power of the Internet and social media have taken the production and distribution of fan content to levels that not even the most force-sensitive Jedi could have foreseen in the early 1980s. Long gone are the days when only the kid down the block with the Boba Fett jet pack could share in your Star Wars obsession. Nowadays fan sites can generate huge cult followings, and fan films, fan art and remixes and mash-ups can rival the quality of the genuine articles. While this has unleashed a new wave of amateur creativity that in many ways has been good for the movie business—generating buzz and expanding interest among the general public—it’s also precipitated the need for rights holders to increase their vigilance.

So this year, as May the 4th approaches, it’s worth taking a few minutes to consider the legal implications of paying corporate homage to Star Wars. Contrary to the mantra of the brash, no-nonsense space smuggler Han Solo—whose catch phrase “never tell me the odds” endeared him to audiences—some risks are worth measuring before making the jump to light-speed. So here are a few things to consider before your company channels the force this May the 4th:

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The Most Important Question In The Michael Jordan First Amendment Case Was The One That Didn’t Get Asked

iStock_000015750550_Small By: Brian J. Meli

Last month, we looked at the Michael Jordan v. Jewel Food Stores Seventh Circuit appellate decision in some detail here. But there was more to this decision—a reversal of the district court’s finding that a tribute ad constituted fully protected First Amendment speech—than what was decided. The appeal had a favorable outcome for Jordan, who got the lower court’s decision tossed and his case remanded, and who will likely be compensated handsomely for his persistence. But did Jordan’s legal team miss an opportunity to double down on his chances for success and establish some important precedent in the process? Continue reading

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Content Marketing And The Great Commercial Blur

By: Brian J. Meli

Back in the quaint old days of the the 1970’s and early 80’s, when the Internet was still a college science project and social networking was something you did around a water cooler, the US Supreme Court decided a series of First Amendment cases that established the modern-day boundaries between inviolate non-commerical speech (personal, religious, political speech) and less revered, but still important commercial speech.

iStock_000020102137_ExtraSmallThe result was a distinction between communication that’s subject to government restriction on the basis that it’s false or misleading (commercial), and speech that’s beyond the reach of regulation no matter how untrue or inaccurate it may be (non-commerical). It’s a distinction—and a precedent—that still stands today, nearly 40 years and numerous technological revolutions later. But the longevity of the distinction has less to do with the clarity of the decisions that formed it, and more to do with the Supreme Court resisting reexamination of an issue that, now more than ever, demands drawing boundaries between concepts that can be almost impossible to distinguish, let alone define. Continue reading

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