Minneapolis blogger John Edwards is suing a city official he says tried to co-opt the name of his online brand, “Wedge Live,” in order to silence his political commentary.
Edwards is asking a Hennepin County court to recognize him as the legal owner of “Wedge Live,” and alleges Carol Becker — an elected member of the Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation — attempted to coerce him after she filed for the trademark and business registration for that name.
“I think it’s important to draw a line in the sand and say: ‘You can’t do this. This is where it stops,’ ” said Edwards, who has clashed with Becker over city planning issues.
Becker said Thursday that she has already rescinded her applications on the trademark and business registration, and called the lawsuit “frivolous.”
“It’s hard to see there’s any harm here,” she said. “I mean, I never had the trademark. I never threatened the guy. ... I never did any of that stuff.”
The saga has played out on social media for the past month, since Edwards discovered from a public notice in the Star Tribune that Becker had applied for ownership over the name. Edwards posted about it on Twitter, sparking droves of supporters to criticize what they considered a sneaky attempt to muzzle an adversary. Becker withdrew her applications, noting she may refile for rights to the name in the future.
Edwards wasn’t satisfied with that outcome and decided to hire a lawyer to help protect the brand he’s been building over the past four years with frequent posts that combine wonky political commentary with comic videos that ridicule local politicians and public commenters.
The lawsuit seeks to stop Becker from making another claim on the name Wedge Live, calling her past attempts “false,” “misleading” and an infringement of Edwards’ rights. Though Edwards had not filed for a trademark, the suit alleges he holds a common-law claim on the combination of the words “Wedge” and “Live” by using it for years, and even earning praise and awards from journalists for his work.
“Edwards already has these rights, and he’s had them for a long time,” said Scott Flaherty, Edwards’ attorney, and a candidate for Ramsey County judge. “And when Becker comes along and threatens to take action against his rights, that’s not OK. And it’s not lawful.”
Becker said she’s hiring an attorney to fight the allegations. She’s already turned down an offer from Edwards to settle the lawsuit in exchange for signing away any claim to the name and paying his attorney’s fees plus a $500 donation to the pedestrian and bicycle advocacy group, Our Streets Minneapolis. The offer also stipulated she would pay $600 for Edwards to file for trademark “so that no one like you can try this stunt,” according to the settlement letter.
“That’s just extortion,” Becker said.
She said she originally filed for rights to the name “Wedge Live” with plans to use it as the title for a podcast that dealt with societal “wedge” issues. She disputed stealing the name from Edwards or attempting to shut him up.
Yet there’s no dispute that Becker is familiar with Edwards and that they are opposed on political issues facing Minneapolis.
After Becker sued then-Mayor Betsy Hodges over the timing of her budget rollout last year, Edwards responded by waging a symbolic write-in campaign for Becker’s seat on the Board of Estimate and Taxation. Edwards co-founded a group called Neighbors for More Neighbors, designed to promote political issues such as affordable housing, greater density and bike-friendly designs. Becker helped start a group, Minneapolis for Everyone, that opposes a city plan to increase housing density citywide.
Becker has also posted comments online about Edwards, questioning the funding source of his blog.