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Judge foils Fox over Franken case

Book's sales soar as court finds suit 'without merit'

Satirist Al Franken has to be relishing the latest bit of political theater to emerge from his ongoing public feud with Fox News Channel pundit Bill O’Reilly.

On Friday, a federal court in Manhattan tossed a lawsuit filed by Fox News Channel against the liberal comedian and publisher Penguin. U.S. District Judge Denny Chin said the action was “without merit, both factually and legally.”

Lawsuit, which marks a rare loss for Fox News, wound up becoming a publicity coup for Franken’s book, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.”

The media attention generated by the suit catapulted the book to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list. Dutton, the Penguin imprint that publishes the book, promptly switched its release date from Sept. 22 to Aug. 21 and increased its print run from 270,000 to 435,000 copies.

Franken’s book is a searing satirical look at the political right, touching on events like the 2000 election and pundits like Ann Coulter and O’Reilly, host of the “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News.

Fox News wanted the court to issue a preliminary injunction ordering Penguin to remove the phrase “fair and balanced” from the title of the book. Fox News said it trademarked the phrase in 1998.

Chin agreed with noted First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, who represented Franken, that the trademark and First Amendment law provides wide latitude when it comes to satire and parody.

Taking issue with Fox attorneys, Chin said it was ridiculous to think that anyone would be confused that Franken’s book isn’t a satire.

The book jacket features an image of Franken standing in a TV newsroom in front of monitors showing images of O’Reilly, conservative author Ann Coulter, President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

“Is it really likely that someone will be confused into believing that Mr. O’Reilly and Fox News are sponsoring or endorsing this book in any way? Seeing the word ‘liars’ over Mr. O’Reilly’s face would make you think not,” Chin said, a ripple of laughter breaking out in the courtroom.

Neither Franken nor O’Reilly attended the hearing.

“We didn’t care if it was Al Franken, Weird Al Yankovic or Al Lewis. We were there to protect our trademark and our talent. We respect the court’s decision and are evaluating our options,” Fox News said in a statement.