Panel says no standing to sue after internet user browsed using her own
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
By Joe Forward, Legal Writer,
State Bar of Wisconsin
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
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
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
“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.