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  • WisBar News
    October
    06
    2010

    Panel says no standing to sue after internet user browsed using her own name

    Joe Forward
    Legal Writer

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    Oct. 6, 2010 – An internet search engine that links someone’s name to distasteful websites does not violate federal trademark law because one does not have a commercial interest in his or her name, a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals panel recently held.

    Panel says no standing to sue after internet user browsed using her own name

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a district court decision to dismiss a woman's case against internet-giant Yahoo! for federal trademark infringement pertaining to her own name.

    By org jforward wisbar Joe Forward, Legal Writer, State Bar of Wisconsin

    Panel says no standing to sue after internet 
user browsed using her 
own name Oct. 6, 2010 – An internet search engine that links someone’s name to distasteful websites does not violate federal trademark law because one does not have a commercial interest in his or her name, a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals panel recently held.

    Beverly Stayart searched the Yahoo! internet search engine using her own name as the search term. In other words, Stayart Yahoo!d herself. The results turned up links to pornographic websites and online pharmaceutical companies.

    Stayart sent a letter to Yahoo! demanding that such results be disassociated with her name, but received a hollow response. In turn, she filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, claiming trademark infringement under 15 U.S.C. section 1125(a). She also filed state law claims for statutory and common law invasion of privacy.

    Section 1125(a) states, in part, that any entity that “uses in commerce any … name … which is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive as to the affiliation, connection, or association of such [entity] with another person, or as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of his or her goods, services, or commercial activities by another person … shall be liable in a civil action by any person who believes that he or she is or is likely to be damaged by such act.”

    Stayart claimed “the search results that appear with her name improperly gave her endorsement to pornography and online pharmaceuticals.”

    The district court held that Stayart did not have standing to sue under section 1125(a) because she did not have a commercial interest in her name. Stayart argued that that her name had commercial value because of her extensive charitable and humanitarian efforts.

    That is, Stayart claimed that by advocating and boycotting on behalf of baby seals, wolves, and wild horses through “scholarly” internet posts and poems, her name had commercial value.

    But in Stayart v. Yahoo! Inc., No. 09-3379 (Sept. 30, 2010), a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals panel held that while “Stayart’s goals may be passionate and well-intentioned, they are not commercial,” and “standing to assert a [section 1125(a)] claim is limited to a ‘purely commercial class of plaintiffs.’”

    The panel also held the district court did not abuse its discretion when it dismissed Stayart’s case and denied her leave to amend the complaint so she could proceed on state law claims under diversity jurisdiction.

    “It is clear after reviewing the record and the district court’s analysis that it adequately considered the merits of the state law claims and the need to resolve them in federal court,” the panel wrote.