Official withdraws ‘Wedge Live’ claim

A Minneapolis official withdrew her claim to the name of a popular blog earlier this month, after backlash on social media.

Carol Becker had filed to claim the name “Wedge Live” with the Minnesota Secretary of State and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in late July. But the elected member of Minneapolis’ Board of Estimate and Taxation filed to withdraw the claim after social media posts and a story by journalist Tony Webster.

Becker said she thinks the name “Wedge Live” is something off of which she could make money. She said she wants to start a podcast using the name and claimed that the name is “legally available.”

“One of the things in trying to start something like a podcast is you’ve got to have a good name,” Becker said. “… Just because someone else thought of it doesn’t mean you can’t have multiple groups using those words.”

But a University of Minnesota law professor refuted Becker’s claim that the name is “legally available.” William McGeveran, who teaches trademark law at the U, said the actual use of the name is what creates trademark rights and not filing registration.

Running against Becker

Lowry Hill East resident John Edwards created and runs the “Wedge LIVE!” blog and uses it to write about housing proposals, local politics and other local government issues. Edwards also runs a Twitter account using the same name and creates YouTube videos about local issues.

Becker drew Edwards’ ire last August, when she sued then-Mayor Betsy Hodges to force her to produce a full budget, instead of the outline of the plan. He decided to run a “half-serious, half-joke” write-in campaign for the Board of Estimate and Taxation this past November.

“It seemed like a shame that no one had filed to run against this person who was making these outlandish claims,” Edwards said, noting Becker’s online comments questioning the funding of groups such as Black Lives Matter and the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition (now Our Streets Minnesota).

“It seemed like Carol wasn’t getting the (same) level of scrutiny, and that’s somewhat understandable, because you don’t hear about the Board of Estimate and Taxation,” Edwards added.

Becker cruised to victory in the election, winning 48,163 votes compared to Edwards’ 1,539, but the two crossed paths again this spring and summer, after Minneapolis released its draft comprehensive plan, Minneapolis 2040. Becker was opposed to some of the plan’s housing and transportation policies and helped found the group Minneapolis for Everyone to oppose it. Edwards was a proponent of the plan’s housing and transportation proposals and advocated for it in posts on multiple websites.

On July 10, Edwards published a post entitled “Beyond Apocalyptic Yard Signs” that noted the housing shortage in the Twin Cities and argued for more housing density in all areas of Minneapolis. Becker responded online three days later with a piece on E-democracy.org, arguing for the importance of parking and questioning Edwards’ claim that increased density will help right historical wrongs, such as housing discrimination. She argued for concentrating new housing in existing walkable environments and high-frequency transit nodes and for preserving single-family homes.

‘Not out to get’ Edwards

The public-comment period for Minneapolis 2040 ended July 22, and Becker filed three applications for “Wedge Live” in the following two days. A Twitter user brought the filings to Edwards’ attention on Aug. 10, and Webster, the independent journalist, published a story on them the next day.

Becker confirmed to Webster that she had filed the claims and said she intended to start a podcast to discuss “wedge issues.” But she subsequently withdrew her applications, a move she said gives Edwards time to “file for those assets.”

“I’m not out to get Mr. Edwards,” she told the Southwest Journal. “I’m trying to do the decent thing and (let him) do what he needs to do to become legal.”

Edwards said he was confused at first when he saw Becker’s claim and then became worried. He said his lawyer told him not to worry about the trademark filing and said they’re considering filing both an ethics complaint and taking the matter to court.

Edwards added that he thinks Becker made the filings out of revenge. He said he doesn’t think Becker is fit to be in office, noting her vow to come back in six months and re-file the applications.

“It’s crazy to me that an elected official would think it’s okay to try and silence her critic by stealing the name of his platform from out from under him,” he said.

Becker denies the claim of revenge and maintains her innocence. She wrote a post on E-democracy.org on Aug. 14 saying that “the real story” is why the name Wedge Live was available in the first place and why Edwards hadn’t filed to become a business, nonprofit or a lobbyist.

Becker claimed that Edwards meets the definition of a lobbyist and said she “stepped aside so Mr. Edwards can come clean.” She also charged that Edwards is working “full time” on the blog and questioned how he can make ends meet without significant compensation for the work.

Edwards said he does make some money off of his site via donations from about 150 contributors, most of which are $5 or less. He told Webster that he pays taxes on the donations and on Wedge LIVE!-themed merchandise that he sells on another website.

Hamline University Professor David Schultz said that mere criticism or commentary is not lobbying, even if the writer is paid to do so. He said someone would need to take direct action to influence legislation or government action and receive compensation specifically for the action in order to be considered a lobbyist.

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