A Lowry Hill East blogger has sued the Minneapolis elected official who filed to conduct business under the name of his blog and corresponding social media accounts.
John Edwards says Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation President Carol Becker used false and misleading trademark and business registrations to violate his rights, according to a lawsuit filed Aug. 23 in Hennepin County District Court. He asks for a declaration that he owns the Wedge Live brand under which he has blogged, tweeted and created YouTube videos over the past four years. He also asks that Becker be prohibited from filing any registrations for it or using any marks that are confusingly similar to it.
In a statement on his website, wedgelive.com, Edwards said he believes that Becker made the filings in an effort to shut down his platform and steal the identity by which the community has come to know him. He said he believes something similar will happen again and that he will do everything in his power to defend himself.
“I will not leave myself vulnerable to a person, or group of people, with the money and motivation to engage in an unlawful effort to shut down the platform I’ve spent more than four years building,” he wrote.
Becker did not return an email from the Southwest Journal seeking comment on the lawsuit.
In interviews, Edwards said he didn’t know who Becker was until she sued then-Mayor Betsy Hodges last fall in an effort to get her to produce a complete budget proposal, a move he considered frivolous. He subsequently decided to run what he described as a “half-serious, half-joke” write-in campaign for the Board of Estimate and Taxation, though he didn’t come close to winning.
This spring, Edwards and Becker were on opposite sides of the debate over Minneapolis’ draft comprehensive plan, Minneapolis 2040. At one point, Becker wrote an online post in response to one of Edwards’ blog posts in an attempt to refute claims Edwards made in support of the draft plan.
Becker filed the applications for the Wedge Live brand the day after the public-comment period for Minneapolis 2040 ended. In interviews, she maintained that she did so because she wanted to start a podcast under the name to talk about “wedge issues,” and she denied that Edwards had exclusive ownership of the brand.
“Just because someone else thought of it doesn’t mean you can’t have multiple groups using those words,” she told the Southwest Journal.
Becker withdrew the applications after unflattering media coverage of her actions, in what she said was an opportunity to Edwards to “do what he needs to do to become legal.” She alleged, without evidence, that Edwards is being paid to advocate for a pro-developer agenda. She also charged that he should file “legal paperwork,” potentially including registering as a nonprofit, filing with the Campaign Finance Board or registering as a lobbyist.
“Would Mr. Edward’s (sic) world be different if those who were funding him had to come out into the daylight?” she wrote on the Minneapolis’ issues forum last month.
Edwards, an independent graphic designer, accepts donations for his work, which readers support through the online platform Patreon. He also has an online store out of which he sells Wedge Live-branded merchandise.
But Edwards said that all content published on Wedge Live or his own social media accounts are his own ideas, opinions and artistic visions. Further, he said he has never been paid to post anything in service to a specific viewpoint and that Wedge Live is not his primary source of income.
Becker’s claim that the name Wedge Live is “legally available” does not appear to hold up, a University of Minnesota law professor told the Southwest Journal last month. William McGeveran, who teaches trademark law at the university, said the actual use of the name is what creates trademark rights and not filing registration.
Also, Becker’s charge that a blogger such as Edwards should have to file as a lobbyist appears dubious.
David Schultz, a professor in the Hamline University Department of Political Science, said that blogging is in general a protected political activity under the First Amendment. He said someone would only have to register as a lobbyist if they attempted to influence government action and were paid specifically to do so.
“If a blogger is simply blogging and receives donations or compensation for that, that is not lobbying, even if part of what that person is doing is advocating others take official action to do something,” he wrote in an email.