Web Marketing Legal Issues

Eric Goldman

Marquette University Law School




Legal Basics

w    Trademarks are words and symbols that identify and distinguish the source and origin of goods and services in the market

n    Infringement—likelihood of consumer confusion

w  Factors: mark similarity; product similarity; area and manner of mark’s use; consumer care; mark strength; actual confusion; and intent to palm-off

n    Initial interest confusion—“use of another’s trademark in a manner reasonably calculated to capture initial consumer attention, even though no actual sale is finally completed as a result of the confusion” (Brookfield)

n    Dilution—lessening of a famous mark’s capacity to identify/distinguish goods/services (e.g., tarnishment and blurring)

w    Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection (ACPA)

n     registering a domain name with bad faith intent to profit and then registering, trafficking or using confusingly similar or, in case of famous TM, dilutive domain name

n     registering a domain name using a living person’s name with intent to profit by selling it

w    Dispute Resolution Procedures (UDRP, STOP, etc.)

n     domain name is confusingly similar to third party TM, registrant has no legitimate interests in the name, and name is being used in bad faith

w    False Advertising/Unfair Trade Practices

n     Also specific product laws (tobacco, jewelry, diet supplements)

w   Publicity Rights

n     commercial exploitation of personality


Basics Applied: Domain Names

w   Registering domain names of competitor

n    ACPA and UDRP; can also be infringement and dilution

w   Registering domain names using famous marks

n    ACPA, UDRP and dilution; can also be infringement

w   Registering “sucks” domain names

n    some courts find ACPA, UDRP, infringement & dilution

n    others find no violation or TM fair use

w   Typosquatting

n    ACPA and UDRP; can also be infringement and dilution


Basics Applied: Other Practices

w   Including third party TMs in metatags

n     some courts say per se initial interest confusion (Brookfield)

n     some courts reach opposite conclusion (Welles)

n     disclaimers may not help

n     how accurately do the metatags characterize your website?

w   Buying third party TMs as keywords

n     law unsettled; might be initial interest confusion

w   Link manipulation to improve page rank

n     might be illegal, and can get you thrown out or down-ranked

n     SearchKing lawsuit

w   Mousetrapping

n     can be unfair trade practices (Zuccarini)


Search Engine Liability

w   Selling third party keywords

n     dictionary words not TM infringement (Playboy v. Netscape)

n     law is far from settled (Estee Lauder, Body Solutions, Gator)

w   Paid inclusion/paid placement

n     FTC has threatened unfair trade practices claim

n     Is it ethical to use consumer expectations about editorial content to improve ad response?

w   Indexing and displaying content

n     in-line linking infringes but thumbnails are fair use (Kelly)

w   Linking to infringing content

n     online safe harbor (17 USC 512)

n     compare Napster and eBay cases