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Franken can be 'fair and balanced' in Fox parody

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Franken can be ‘fair and balanced’ in Fox parody

  • A federal judge ruled that the Fox News network cannot stop a satirist from using the phrase “fair and balanced” by claiming trademark infringement over the phrase.

Aug. 25, 2003 — U.S. District Judge Denny Chin on Friday said that a network’s lawsuit against satirist Al Franken for his book title “Lies, and the Lying Liars who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.” is “wholly without merit, both factually and legally.”

Fox News Channel Aug. 12 sued the political satirist and publisher Penguin Group for trademark infringement over use of the phrase “fair and balanced” in the title of his upcoming book. It claimed that Franken and the publishers used the phrase in a way that could confuse buyers into believing that they were buying a Fox-endorsed product.

Chin called the lawsuit “ironic,” saying that a media company that should be “seeking to protect the First Amendment is seeking to undermine it” by claiming a monopoly on the phrase.

In the lawsuit seeking unspecified damages, Fox News said it registered the phrase “Fair & Balanced” as a trademark in 1998. The lawsuit described Franken as “increasingly unfunny.”

The network’s attorney argued the phrase could trick some consumers into believing the book is associated with Fox and noted that it appeared above a picture of a television screen of Fox host Bill O’Reilly. Franken is pictured on the cover, which also includes television screens of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and conservative pundit Ann Coulter.

A lengthy exchange between the judge and Fox attorney Dori Ann Hanswirth drew laughter from the courtroom, according to The New York Times, and the judge said that a person would have to be “completely dense” not to realize that the cover was a joke.

Franken’s attorney Floyd Abrams told the court there was no confusion created by the cover and that the artistic qualities of the parody entitled it to full First Amendment protection.

The book went on sale nationally Thursday, moved up from its September rollout date because of publicity from the lawsuit.

According to an Associated Press report, the publisher added 50,000 copies to the original run of 270,000 after the suit was filed.

The Fox lawsuit described Franken as a “C-level political commentator” and suggested he was “intoxicated or deranged” when he confronted a table of Fox personalities at a correspondents’ dinner in April, according to AP.

Franken’s other books include “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot: And Other Observations” and “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!” In 2003, he served as a fellow with Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government at the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy.

(Fox v. Franken; Franken’s attorney: Floyd Abrams, New York City) JL

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