Interests in Mississippi Try to Block Eminent Domain Reform
Tuesday, July 26, 2011 10:45 am | By Grant Morgan

Small business and farm groups took their fight to court on Monday over an attempt to block a constitutional amendment for eminent domain reform from being placed before Mississippi voters.

The amendment, mirroring legislative efforts in other states, would prohibit government taking of land for anything other than a defined “public project.” It would effectively prohibit the turning over of land taken by eminent domain to private investors, as was permitted by the Supreme Court in the Kelo decision.

The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation and the National Federation of Independent Business appeared as “friends of the court”, arguing that placing the amendment to the state constitution on the ballot is permissible under the US Constitution because they claim that it does not change the definition of “public use” or grant new rights to property owners, but rather codifies existing definitions in order to protect property-owners from abuse and provide certainty.

Karen Harned, a spokesperson for the NFIB legal center, stated that “"It's one thing for government to take private property for long-standing and well-agreed public uses, but it's just plain wrong for the government to take someone's home, business or farm so someone else can develop the land or secure a better location."

While four candidates for the Mississippi Governor’s office support the initiative, outgoing Governor Haley Barbour opposes it, claiming that it would limit the ability of the state to attract major development projects. The court challenge was initiated by Leland Speed, head of the Mississippi Development Authority, acting as a private citizen.

The Property Rights Alliance supports the ballot initiative, as an attempt to protect property-owners and small businesses, and limit eminent domain powers to their originally intended use. At very least, those opposing the measure should be persuaded to drop their court challenge, and make their arguments before the public.

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Fake Apple Stores Show the Weakness of Chinese IP Laws
Monday, July 25, 2011 1:00 pm | By Grant Morgan

China’s ongoing difficulties with the protection of intellectual property took a bizarre turn last week, as international news sources discovered a major distributor of fake Apple products. While knock-off electronics being sold in China is hardly news, what makes this incident unique is the way in which the fraud artists went about selling them: they created an entire imitation Apple Store. The Property Rights Alliance has detailed China’s ongoing problems in our annual Intellectual Property Rights Index.

The fake Apple store included the signature logo, décor, and uniforms for employees. Indeed, even many employees of the business thought that they were employed by the real Apple and that they were selling actual iPhones and iPads. It was only after an American blogger living in China visited the store and notices some discrepancies that the scam came to light. While Apple refused to comment on the fake store, it appears to be an attempt to exploit the ongoing sales success of the company in China, which has recently yielded record sales figures.

While the idea of creating an entire fraudulent storefront may seem amusing to some, it highlights real problems with Chinese intellectual property enforcement. Apple has invested billions of dollars in building a reputation for innovative products and helpful customer service. When fraud artists appropriate that brand for themselves and sell low-quality imitation products from a bogus store-front, they are both stealing the work of others and undermining that hard-earned reputation. Those who innovate and create value should therefore be concerned about the ongoing lax enforcement of China’s international IP obligations.


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Federal Court: You Can Fight City Hall and Win
Thursday, July 21, 2011 4:30 pm | By Grant Morgan

Last Wednesday, a Federal Appeals Court in St. Louis held Jim Roos, a local property owner, had the right to paint a large mural on the side of his building, despite city ordinances to the contrary.


What did the 360 square foot sign, which was visible from two interstates, say?


“End Eminent Domain Abuse”

Roos, a member of the Missouri Eminent Domain Abuse Commission, had been fighting the city since 2007, when he painted the sign to protest aggressive land-taking by the city government of St. Louis.

The initial ruling from the district court held that the city ordinance was content-neutral and therefore acceptable on its face, and Mr. Roos’ work was a “classic example” of a sign.


However, the panel of the appeals court found that the ordinance did discriminate based on content, and that it was not supported by a compelling state interest. Thus, Mr. Roos is protected by the first amendment, and the sign may stay up.

This ruling is encouraging for multiple reasons. First, it tells property-owners that city governments may not normally impose content-specific rules on how they can exercise their first amendment rights using their own property. Also, it sends a message to governments that if they try to use local laws to silence activists fighting their abuse of eminent domain, courts will intervene.

Either way, this ruling is a victory for liberty.

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