Two years ago, Neala Schwartzberg had a reasonably good time visiting Cleveland and wrote favorably about the trip on her website, Offbeattravel.com, using the headline “Ohio Rocks.”
Last month, she received a cease-and-desist order from a certain Jason White, owner of the website Ohiorocks.com, which consists of a collection of album reviews and interviews with indie-rock bands. “Ohiorocks,” in fact, is a term he has copyrighted.
White ordered Schwartzberg to remove her plagiaristic headline within three days, lest he be forced to “seek a legal resolve involving damages.” Sure enough, White had already successfully stared down the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which had the misguided sense to refer to the rocks of Ohio as “Ohio rocks.”
“Your interpretation of your legal rights seems unusually broad,” Schwartzberg responded, touching off an e-mail catfight that resulted in lawyer bills. A freaked-out Schwartzberg eventually changed the headline.
Oh, but she didn’t have to, says Scene legal expert Mark Avsec. “Let’s face it: Cleveland does rock, and perhaps Ohio does too,” says Avsec. Just because White owns a trademark “does not mean that the words are effectively jettisoned from the English language.”
Citizens of Ohio, resume rocking at your convenience.