Flex Your Rights’ response to the new random search policy on D.C. public transportation may soon find us in court. The Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has threatened us with legal action due to our use of Metro’s "M" logo on our informational flyer about refusing random searches. Metro alleges that our use of the logo on the widely-distributed flyer constitutes a violation of their registered servicemark and has promised legal action if we do not destroy all remaining flyers and issue an apology by January 5th.
The 5th has now passed, and we have no intention of complying with Metro’s ill-conceived intimidation tactics. We’re well aware that the 1st Amendment protects "fair use" of trademarked material for the purpose of criticism. The ACLU of the National Capital Area has agreed to represent us in the event that Metro files a lawsuit. Our attorney Art Spitzer contacted Metro in a letter today, urging that the legal threats against us be promptly withdrawn to avoid an inevitable loss in court.
As controversy surrounding the random search program continues to escalate, Metro’s frivolous threat is just the latest in a series of bad choices by Metro dating back to the announcement of the program itself. Here’s a quick recap of what’s happened so far:
Oct. 27, 2008 – Metro suddenly announces the random search program without seeking input from the public.
Oct. 29, 2008 – FYR organizes a public protest and begins distributing flyers informing Metro riders of their right to refuse random searches on the Metro. The effort generates considerable media attention, including the Washington Post, the Washington CityPaper, and local ABC and NBC affiliates
Nov. 15, 2008 – Metro refuses to debate Flex Your Rights on DC50′s Weekend News with Chris Core. Core leaves empty chair on set to represent Metro’s unwillingness to defend its own program.
Nov. 16, 2008 – Washington Post publishes op-ed by FYR Executive Director Steven Silverman.
Dec. 3, 2008 – Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn attends Metro Riders Advisory Council meeting and offends the council with an inappropriate propaganda video on the horrors of terrorism. FYR successfully encourages the council to pass a resolution (13-2) urging Metro to suspend the program until they’re prepared to defend its merits at a public meeting.
Dec. 5, 2008 – Metro threatens to sue Flex Your Rights for using the "M" logo on our informational flyer.
As this timeline makes clear, Metro’s threats are a transparent attempt to intimidate us following our successful opposition to the random search program. Fortunately, our actions are protected under the 1st Amendment and we expect that Metro will withdraw its threat upon further consideration.
Flex Your Rights works to help citizens understand constitutional protections when dealing with police. Just as we encourage the public not to be intimidated by coercive police practices, we will certainly not be intimidated by frivolous legal threats from our opponents.