Trademark

I’m late to the party, but I wanted to say a few things about the District Court’s decision in the Viacom v. YouTube case this week and.  This will be a four-part post, covering:

1.  The holding

2.  The economic principle behind it

3.  The next steps in the case

4.  A review of the errors in legal analysis and procedure committed by reporters covering the case

Continue reading →

As the Wall Street Journal is already reporting, today eBay sustained an important win in its long-running dispute with Tiffany over counterfeit goods sold through its marketplace.  (The full opinion is available here.)

I wrote about this case as my leading example of the legal problems that appear at the border between physical life and digital life, both in “The Laws of Disruption” and a 2008 article for CIO Insight.

To avoid burying the lede, here’s the key point:  for an online marketplace to operate, the burden has to be on manufacturers to police their brands, not the market operator.  Any other decision, regardless of what the law says or does not say, would effectively mean the end of eBay and sites like it.

Continue reading →

Google v. Everyone

by on March 23, 2010 · 9 comments

I had a long interview this morning with the Christian Science Monitor. Like many of the interviews I’ve had this year, the subject was Google. At the increasingly congested intersection of technology and the law, Google seems to be involved in most of the accidents.

Just to name a few of the more recent pileups, consider the Google books deal, net neutrality and the National Broadband Plan, Viacom’s lawsuit against YouTube for copyright infringement, Google’s very public battle with the nation of China, today’s ruling from the European Court of Justice regarding trademarks, adwords, and counterfeit goods, the convictions of Google executives in Italy over a user-posted video, and the reaction of privacy advocates to the less-than-immaculate conception of Buzz.

In some ways, it should come as no surprise to Google’s legal counsel that the company is involved in increasingly serious matters of regulation and litigation. After all, Google’s corporate goal is the collection, analysis, and distribution of as much of the world’s information as possible, or, as the company puts it,” to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” That’s a goal it has been wildly successful at in its brief history, whether you measure success by use (91 million searches a day) or market capitalization ($174 billion).

As the world’s economy moves from one based on physical goods to one driven by information flow, the mismatch between industrial law and information behavior has become acute, and Google finds itself a frequent proxy in the conflicts.

Continue reading →

PFF Adjunct Fellow Mike Palage led this extraordinary discussion of ICANN’s origins, evolution and future with four of ICANN’s “Founding Fathers”: Milton Mueller (author of Ruling the Root), law professor David Johnson, ICANN’s first CEO Mike Roberts and then ICANN CEO Paul Twomey. In particular, the group discussed ICANN’s mission, governance structure, and accountability; the difficult issue of new generic Top Level Domain names (gTLDs) and trademark concerns; and ICANN’s future relationship with the U.S. government. Be sure to check out the handy ICANN Glossary on page 33. The audio can be downloaded here.

Here’s the transcript (PDF):

Continue reading →

Googles Data Liberation FrontGoogle today unveiled the Data Liberation Front, a team of engineers in Chicago dedicated to ensuring that Google build “liberated products”—ones that have “built in features that make it easy (and free) to remove your data from the product in the event that you’d like to take it elsewhere.” We’ve spent a lot of time here warning about the dangers of Googlephobia, but now that Google has brazenly appropriated the TLF’s unique mock-Communist iconography, we’re starting to think that Jeff Chester and Scott Cleland may be right: Maybe Google really is trying to take over the world!

So we regret to announce our filing of a lawsuit in the Twelfth Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge Google’s infringement of our mark. We demand 50% of the $0.00 Google earns every time they “allow” users to port their application data out of Google to a competitor’s services! We will, of course, dedicate these royalties to the important project of educating and empowering users about how they can determine their own destiny online.

But seriously… We heartily agree with our Data Liberation Front comrades that users should be fully empowered to switch from one service to another online. This kind of competition is clearly the best protection for consumers in the Digital Age. Making switching easy should assuage not just antitrust concerns, but also concerns about how much privacy or security each web service offers to its users, no matter how big its market share: If you don’t like what a service offers, just take your data and leave! Who needs the government micro-managing the Internet when users have that kind of control?

Viva la (Technology) Revolution!

P.S. In case you haven’t seen it the Monty Python video we’re all riffing on:

Continue reading →

By Michael Palage & Berin Szoka, The Progress & Freedom Foundation

Over the next month, the ICANN Board will consider its options for ensuring that some framework is in place to ensure ICANN’s accountability to the global Internet community after the approaching expiration of its Memorandum of Understanding and Joint Project Agreement (MOU/JPA) with the U.S. Department of Commerce. We analyze these options in our new paper, “Choosing the Right Path to a Permanent Accountability Framework for ICANN.”

We urge the ICANN Board to allow the time necessary for the development of a permanent accountability framework in consultation with the global Internet community, as required by ICANN’s Bylaws.  The authors caution the ICANN Board against rubber-stamping a recent proposal to essentially make the MoU/JPA a permanent instrument as inadequate to ensure ICANN’s long-term accountability.  The alternative, simply ending ICANN’s relationship with the U.S. Government, would raise serious legal questions concerning ICANN’s ability to collect fees from registrars and registries and the transfer of property rights underlying the domain name system.

We conclude by calling on ICANN’s new CEO Rod Beckstrom to exercise the kind of leadership he advocated in his 2005 book, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, which explains the advantages of decentralized managerial “nervous systems” (“starfish”) over top-down hierarchies (“spiders”):

Instead of focusing on ‘spider’-esque permanent instruments with a single government, Beckstrom and the ICANN Board should focus on more ‘starfish’-like solutions that both continue the USG’s stewardship role and involve more governments that want to participate in the unique private-public partnership known as ICANN—without compromising ICANN’s guiding principles and commitment to private sector leadership. Only this outcome will ensure the long-term viability of ICANN as a global trustee of the Internet’s unique identifiers.

Continue reading →

My PFF colleague Mike Palage just released a paper about a series of recent applications for national trademark rights in terms that correspond to likely strings for new top-level domain names, or TLDs, (e.g., “.BLOG”). These attempts highlight just one way in which ICANN’s new generic TLD (gTLD) application process is likely to be “gamed.” But it is also a strategy to which some trademark holders may feel compelled to resort to defend their rights to that string. Unfortunately, it does not appear that ICANN is addressing these important public policy considerations. In fact, based upon some of the provisions in the proposed draft registry agreements, it appears that ICANN staff’s actions may increase, rather than decrease, the ambiguity that opens the door to such gaming of the system.

Continue reading →

The proliferation of Web 2.0 social media services has magnified the old problem of cyber-squatting: Every new service represents the possibility that someone else might claim your name, or your organization’s trademark, as a user name before you do! This problem is especially significant where user names correspond to vanity URLs, as with Twitter and, more recently, Facebook.

So I was intrigued to discover that the market is responding to this need: ClaimMyName (CMN) will take care of user registrations on 30 Web 20 services for $329 or on an astounding 300 services for $799. CMN is a “freemium” service offered by DandyID.com, a nifty free service that allows users to organize all their social media profiles for something like 390 services so that buttons for each service can easily be added to an author bio page on a blog, as we’ve done at the TLF. So if I really wanted to make sure that no one else registered http://<WEB2.0service>.com/berinszoka, or /techliberation or /ProgressFreedom, this service would allow me to do so with just a few clicks—at a price of either $10.97/service for thirty or $2.66/service for 300 services.

CMN is essentially a mini-Mark Monitor, the international company famous for protecting trademarks online—except that CMN facilitates self-help by users outside of trademark law: No registration is required; everything is done on a first-come-first-serve basis. Pretty cool.

PFF Adjunct Fellow Mike Palage, who served on the ICANN board from 2003 to 2006, filed these comments (PDF) on the NTIA’s recent Notice of Inquiry regarding ICANN’s future.  Mike’s four key points were as follows:

  1. ICANN’s Periodic Review of its internal operations and supporting organizations has failed, and has become nothing more than a “perpetual motion machine of public comments and documentation producing no meaningful results.” Only a second Evolution and Reform Process can solve ICANN’s current deficiencies;
  2. ICANN must hardcode into its policies and its contracts the principle that its policies cannot supersede national laws;
  3. ICANN must cease any operational role in technical infrastructure as required by its bylaws and focus instead on its mission as a technical coordinator; and
  4. Congress must avoid “kicking the JPA can down the road” and instead provide much-needed leadership by creating a solid foundation for ICANN 3.0 in legislation after proper consultation with the Government Accountability Office.

Continue reading →

Google has announced that it will soon begin allowing U.S. advertisers to use trademarked keywords in limited circumstances in text ads, much as Yahoo! already does.  Google currently allow advertisers to bid on trademarked terms as keywords that could cause an ad to appear, either next to Google search results or on a third-party publisher’s website.  That policy will not change, and is discussed here by my PFF colleague Sid Rosenzweig.  The new policy is focused on the text seen by users in ads themselves and applies only if the “landing page” (to which the ad links) is used by a reseller, aggregator or parts supplier to sell only products that are relevant to the mark in question, or if the page is used to provide impartial reviews or other information about the trademarked product.  The new policy does not apply to sites/pages that (a) facilitate the sale of counterfeit goods, (b) allow the sale of a competitor’s goods, (c) criticize the trademarked good, or (d) do not provide substantial information or a purchase option.  Despite these limitations and other safeguards, Google has been sharply criticized by some trademark holders and might even be sued (e.g., for contributory infringement).

I’ll defer to the real trademark lawyers to figure out whether Google is correct that its new policy falls within the bounds of trademark law (particularly the “nominative fair use” doctrine).  But since Adam Thierer and I have been involved in an ongoing defense of online advertising against those who would squelch it through regulation in the name of privacy concerns (not at play here), I think it’s important to highlight the potential benefits to users from this seemingly arcane policy change-and to consider what this episode says about online advertising generally.  I see three main benefits to consumers from the policy change that should be considered alongside the vitally important role that trademarks play in our economy in communicating reputational information.

First, Google’s new policy will allow consumers to find products more easily because advertisers will be able to offer more descriptive and therefore informative ads, mentioning what they sell by name. Continue reading →