Since our founding in 1991, the Institute for Justice has been IJ; and IJ has been the Institute for Justice. It is our logo, our moniker and, fundamentally, our identity. The expression “I am IJ” has served to unify the Institute for Justice’s community of attorneys, clients, donors, staff, supporters and many others behind our mission of litigating for liberty.
IJ is more than just an acronym; it is a sense of purpose and an ethos. IJ’s staff, attorneys and non-attorneys alike, follow “the IJ Way”; our clients rally behind the slogan “I am IJ” in magazine ads; our donors support IJ’s Merry Band of Litigators; our Twitter followers retweet @ij; our website users visit ij.org; and our supporters display “IamIJ” bumper stickers on their cars.
In every way, we are IJ, which is why, today, we have filed a lawsuit to protect our identity and reputation from use by the Media Group of America and IMGE (collectively, “MGA”), which own an entity called Independent Journal. The lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on October 28, 2015, seeks to prevent Independent Journal from identifying and marketing itself as IJ.
Three months ago the Independent Journal Review, a three-year-old conservative news and activism group owned by MGA, rebranded itself as “Independent Journal” and adopted the acronym “IJ” as its primary means of identification. As part of the rebranding effort, they also changed their web domain from IJReview.com to IJ.com.
MGA has struck at the core of our identity and created confusion among our donors, supporters, activists and many others.
We first became aware of the confusion more than a year ago—well before MGA’s rebranding effort—when traffic to the Independent Journal Review’s website began to increase. A number of our donors, supporters and others asked if we launched a new news organization. Others merely assumed IJReview.com and its email updates were associated with IJ, saying that they’d seen the new website or that they didn’t realize we took a stance on a number of issues upon which we have no position.
Earlier this year, we reached out to MGA’s leadership to discuss ways to end the confusion created by Independent Journal calling itself “IJ.” After communicating with MGA, it became clear that Independent Journal intends to continue referring to itself as “IJ.” MGA was aware of the confusion created by IJReview.com well before its rebranding efforts, and those efforts only served to increase confusion by eliminating “review” from its name and website domain.
The confusion created by the Independent Journal extends well beyond “IJ.” Independent Journal articles oftentimes overlap with IJ’s libertarian views, such as those on the First Amendment and school choice. Also like IJ, Independent Journal maintains an online community on Facebook (IJ America) and Twitter (@IJdotCOM), it produces online videos for YouTube, and it posts online content on its website. Given that, it is unsurprising that users have confused our organizations.
But unlike IJ, which adamantly abstains from any involvement in electoral politics, Independent Journal is deeply involved in the current election. For instance, in February 2016 Independent Journal is set to sponsor a Republican presidential debate, and it has collaborated with Republican presidential candidates.
Although Independent Journal’s writers cover many of IJ’s issues, they also write about a wider range of issues, some of which are beyond IJ’s focused mission of defending school choice, fighting for economic liberty, and protecting private property and free speech. This harms IJ because people think that we are something that we are not. When people confuse IJ with Independent Journal, they think—incorrectly—that we are deviating from the practices, beliefs and mission that originally attracted them to IJ.
Nonprofit organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and many others have adopted their acronyms as a means of identification. The ACLU would be rightly frustrated if an organization launched ACLUnews.com and wrote about topics within—as well as beyond—the ACLU’s mission.
Courts have consistently upheld the right of organizations to identify themselves by their acronym, to the exclusion of similarly situated organizations.
IJ has spent more than 24 years building its reputation as a focused, principled advocate for liberty in both the courtroom and court of public opinion. IJ’s reputation is essential to our effectiveness. By co-opting “IJ” and by engaging in activities beyond our mission and purpose, Independent Journal is trading on our name and damaging our reputation.