Court rules against regents in ‘Covid parties’ hoax case

By Howard Fischer | Capitol Media Services  

The Arizona Board of Regents has no legal right to sue the owner of an Instagram account who posted anonymous messages about “ASU covid parties.”

In a ruling Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected claims by the regents that anyone who saw the posts would have believed that the posts actually came from Arizona State University. And the judges said the fact that one of the posts used ASU’s logo and even the university’s maroon and gold colors did not change their minds.

If nothing else, the judges said the federal Lantham Act, which protects trademarks, applies only in commercial circumstances. That, they said, was not the case here.

But the appellate court did more than affirm a lower court ruling that threw out the legal bid by the regents. The judges also took a swat at the regents for filing suit in the first place.

They said that the posts, as a whole, appear to constitute “expressive work” because they mocked the policies and the administration of the regents and ASU.

“To the extent ABOR’s appeal attempt to improperly use trademark laws to block the expression of negative views about the university and its administration, such efforts fail,” they wrote.

The legal fight is over Instagram posts that began appearing as students were returning to classes in August 2020 claiming that Covid was “a big fat hoax” and promising details on a party, including one where hydrochloroquine, a controversial drug which some claim can prevent or cure the virus, would be distributed.

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