The Bad Spaniels dog toy and wine criticism

A court ruling in favor of the Bad Spaniels dog toy means honest wine criticism has survived another day

What does a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Bad Spaniels dog toy have to do with wine criticism? Plenty, which speaks to the dangerous ledge that wine criticism lives on these days.

Earlier this month, the court declined to hear an appeal from Jack Daniels whiskey against a parody dog toy called Bad Spaniels, which looks like the Daniels bottle. The whiskey company had sued the toy company, claiming it had infringed on Jack Daniels’ intellectual property and had hurt the company’s brand. Its suit had had been filed despite long-entrenched and well-established First Amendment protection for parody and satire.

But, as noted on the Libation Law blog, that doesn’t matter to Big Spirits, Big Wine, and Big Beer these days. Stomp on the First Amendment? Why not? We’ve got money to make. There’s a quote on the Internet from an intellectual property attorney which makes it sound as if this toy will cause as much destruction to the republic as armed protesters storming the U.S. Capitol. And, of course, I’m not linking to his quote – if these people sue companies, you can imagine how they would view me.

The Supreme Court’s decision means a lower court ruling will stand in favor of the dog toy. That reiterates the right of the dog toy company to parody Jack Daniels, something that has been part of First Amendment law for at least 70 years. In this, it’s the second important First Amendment decision to bolster wine criticism in the last year, reinforcing the rights of those of us who take the subject seriously and see it as more than scores, tasting notes.and schmoozing the wine industry.

More protection

The first came in August, when a federal district court ruled that wine bloggers likely have the same protections as traditional media. That meant that a producer, unhappy with one of my reviews, probably wouldn’t win if they sued me for libel or defamation. The Bad Spaniels decision, though not exactly the same, means that I’m protected if I write a post parodying the Wine Spectator or the California wine industry. Without the Bad Daniels ruling, either could have sued me, saying that my post diluted the value of their product and that I was liable for damages to make up for the dilution.

Gulp.

That would send me scurrying to scores and tasting notes, yes?

The other question no one has answered: When did we get to the point where a dog chew toy making fun of a whiskey company would become the subject of a constitutionally significant lawsuit? What possible fear could Jack Daniels have – or anyone else in Big Beer, Big Wine, or Big Spirits – that a toy would hurt their business?

Churro, the blog’s associate editor, contributed to this post — and he really likes the toy.

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