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Anderson County sues over bogus planning commission website critical of officials

anderson county lawsuit

A screenshot of the website andersoncountyplanningcommission.com which uses the county's logo and has been publishing content critical of county leadership since last year. The county is suing for copyright infringement. Screenshot/andersoncountyplanningcommission.com 

At first glance, the website might appear at home with the pages included on Anderson County's official site.

The backdrop is a photo of the Anderson County Clock Tower. Anderson County's logo, a blue drawing of the same tower next to a palmetto tree, appears in the top right corner. Even the site's domain name, andersoncountyplanningcommission.com, gives an air of legitimacy.

But read the words published on the site and it soon becomes clear it is not associated with the governing bodies of Anderson County.

"Your rights ARE being violated," the homepage header reads in bold leaders. "This site is provided as a public service to expose Anderson County's outdated, corrupt, unfair, discriminatory and illegal planning process."

The page includes a litany of accusations about past and present planning commissioners, along with copies of planning commission bylaws and a graphic tracking commissioner meeting attendance.

On Sept. 7, Anderson County filed a lawsuit against the site's anonymous founder, alleging that by using the county's tower and palmetto logo, the page is violating copyright and fair use laws.

"Defendant Doe is not licensed or otherwise authorized to use Plaintiff’s Marks, on the Website or otherwise," the complaint reads.

The lawsuit names the unknown founder of the site as John Doe and also lists as a defendant Domains by Proxy, an internet company that shields the identities of clients that register domain names. According to the suit, Domains by Proxy entered a contract with the founder of the site that stipulates the company cannot disclose their name or address.

The site's use of "stylized marks" including the county's logo, the name "Anderson County Planning Commission," and the fact that its tab on an internet browser is identical to that of the county's violates the county's common rights to those marks, according to the complaint.

Along with "content that is in no way sponsored by, or associated with," the county, the site includes some of the same material on the planning commission's page, including agendas and minutes from meetings, as well as a list of commission members and other public documents.

"Visitors to the Website are likely to be confused as to whether the Website is sponsored by, or otherwise associated with, Plaintiff," the suit states.

The website, which the suit says was registered in March 2020, accuses multiple county officials, particularly those on the planning commission, of using their positions for personal enrichment and operating without transparency in multiple posts published on the site. It appears to put emphasis on planning decisions made for the county's District 6, which includes Powdersville.

As of midday on Oct. 1, Anderson County Administrator Rusty Burns had not responded to phone calls to his office from The Post and Courier, or an email seeking comment, over the previous two days.

Follow Conor Hughes on Twitter at @ConorJHughes.

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