Mapping SLAPPs: The Trademark Project

Have you ever been threatened with a lawsuit for using a trademark in your expressive work?

CCLA wants to hear from you!

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is seeking to hear from individuals and organizations that have been threatened with or have faced litigation for using a trademark that didn’t belong to them, particularly in artistic or political expressive materials. As part of our effort to monitor the use of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) and protect free expression, CCLA is taking a closer look at the misuse of trademark law as a way to silence public debate and constitutionally-protected expression.

What is a SLAPP?

Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) are lawsuits targeted against individuals or groups who have spoken out or taken a particular position on a matter of public interest. The effect of SLAPPs is to silence voices through intimidation and the threat of expensive litigation. Resources are redirected to dealing with the legal matter and away from the original public criticism. The CCLA is concerned about this potential misuse of the civil justice system by powerful litigants to quash meaningful counter-perspectives and dissent on issues of public importance. We are also concerned about the chilling effect SLAPPs can have on other potential participants in public debate.

What is a trademark?

A trademark is a mark that is used as a way to indicate the source of commercial wares or services. It serves to distinguish those wares and services of one maker from those of others. So, for example, a consumer who encounters a running shoe with a swoosh on it, will know that it was produced by the Nike Corporation. In recent years, with the rise in “branding,” trademarks have come to express complex and shifting messages about identity: individual, national, and corporate (among others). This is one of the reasons that trademarks have come to be culturally significant for commercial and critical purposes, with individuals and organizations beyond the trademark owner seeking to engage them in their expressions. As a result, the threat of trademark litigation has become an effective channel by which to stifle public debate.

The boundaries of trademark infringement remain unclear, as there is a push for the expansion of trademark rights alongside a pushback from those who recognize the important role trademarks play in other areas of cultural expression.

If you’ve got a story about trademark-related SLAPPs, threatening legal letters or other attempts to intimidate, we’d like to hear it. Please contact us at: