suing over google adwords/result
March 31, 2008 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Someone is threatening to sue my client because his website is returned in search results for the other guy's company name.

My client just sent a rather panicky email out to pretty much everyone he knows because someone is threatening to sue him if his site continues to come up in google searches for his company name. The full text of the threat is in french so I only have my client's translation.

Basically, one of my client's websites rents accommodation in a certain area of france so naturally they are targeting their SEO efforts and pay per click campaigns focus on the phrase " accommodation".

The guy who is threatening to sue has called his company " accommodation"

Clearly this is just a ludicrous threat but we're looking for some citations preferably in european/french law to get him to drop it, at minimal cost (ie. without having to lawyer up)
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Perhaps you could send him a link to this page, and note that your client's name is not on the list. Suggest that suing Google would be the most reasonable way to get their results changed and, besides, they've got much deeper pockets than your client.
posted by cerebus19 at 12:20 PM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I might look up what the process of suing and being sued in France or wherever the person has threatened to sue you from entails. If the process is normal -- if you have to be served notice in some formal way, and if the aggrieved person can only sue for actual damages or for your client to stop doing something -- then you might think hard about waiting to see if they actually do sue, and lawyering up only if and then.

It seems obvious that this is either some irrational, really pissed-off jerk or a thinly veiled extortionist. I don't think that sending either a list of citations would convince either of those sorts of people.

On the other hand, a nasty letter about your ability to seek recourse against people engaged in frivolous, vexatious litigation might be worth hiring a lawyer for.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:25 PM on March 31, 2008

nothing shuts people like this than your lawyer sending a letter of representation in the matter.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:32 PM on March 31, 2008

Oh lord. They're a dime a dozen, these "I'm gonna be an internet millionaire AND YOU'RE STANDING ON MY KUMQUATS!" newbs.

In my experience, ignore them until they actually file. No amount of translated reasoning will get through to these people. He's just *threatening* to sue. He has to find a lawyer willing to take this frivolous suit to court and then be bothered to actually pay the hourlies, etc. Someone along the line is likely to set him straight, and that person needn't be you.

It will very likely come to nothing.

I am not a lawyer. I am not a French lawyer. And I am not your not French lawyer.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:33 PM on March 31, 2008 [3 favorites]

I literally just wrote a lengthy article about this for the New York Law Journal -- it happens to be an area in which I've written a lot. Your friend needs a lawyer, the law in this area is far from clear. Any place in this U.S. other than the Second Circuit this is not a ludicrous threat. Far from it. In general, the French courts have been less friendly to Google even than the American ones. But the question of whether the purchase of a trademarked term as a Google AdWord constitutes trademark infringement currently has no clear answer. In New York and the other District Courts in the Second Circuit it probably does not. Everywhere else in the U.S. it does. I'm not up on the law elsewhere in the world, but please note that this is not "nothing" and get some competent legal advice. IAAL, but I am not your lawyer or your friend's lawyer and I don't know anything about French trademark law.
posted by The Bellman at 12:42 PM on March 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

FWIW, this person threatening lawsuit almost certainly has not actually talked to a lawyer about this issue. Lawyers tend to strongly advise clients against sending emails ike this (IANAL, etc.).

I'd just ask them to have their lawyer send a letter with the details of their claim, and that will probably be the last you hear of it. If they do get a lawyer, then you need one too. If they don't, I wouldn't take them very seriously.

You might also point out to them that you do not control Google and that they should have as good a chance of achieving their desired position in the results as anybody does.
posted by winston at 12:45 PM on March 31, 2008

update from the OP
The phrase seems to have some out wrong - the search term and company name is "town-name accommodation"

Additional information - the company name is not trademarked. Apparently the person issuing the threat comes from a family of lawyers and his brother is head of the law firm - meaning he has free legal advice, though as yet they've had nothing official from the law firm.
posted by jessamyn at 12:58 PM on March 31, 2008

For another data point on U.S. law, Eric Goldman writes about this issue quite a lot in his excellent Technology & Marketing Law. Here's a post of his from 2006 about how at least one court has found that not only Google, but also the purchaser of the keyword can potentially (though certainly not necessarily) be liable for trademark infringement for purchase of the keyword. Here is Eric's writeup of a case from just last week where a plaintiff actually won a trademark infringement suit against a competitor -- again not against Google, against the buyer of the keyword -- but in that case the ad displayed contained the trademarked term. So again, these are complex issues.

And again, this is U.S. law, not French law, so your kilometerage WILL vary.
posted by The Bellman at 1:00 PM on March 31, 2008

"Nothing official" means "nothing to do." It's all bluster until something arrives on paper. Seriously, I've got a domain name to which I've been receiving emails from some lawyer in Texas threatening to take the domain via ICANN/WIPO, suing, and so forth, but only ever via email. I just ignore these and wait to see if he's serious. Sure, talk to a lawyer, but really there's nothing to go on if you don't have paper in front of you since you'll be given to speculation and possibly approaching the complainant on their own terms. I say just ignore it.
posted by rhizome at 1:03 PM on March 31, 2008

First, let me emphasize the fact that I'm not a lawyer.
A quick google search gave me this link (in French). This case seems to look a lot like the one you described.

To summarize it, a company that owned the trademark "EUROCHALLENGES" sued Google and a couple of websites who bought this "Adword". In 2004 the court decided for the plaintiff. Google and the companies who bought the keyword appealed the decision. In 2006, the court confirmed the first decision. The companies were ordered to stop and to pay damages. Google was ordered to stop selling the keyword "EUROCHALLENGES" to anyone.

So I'm afraid it doesn't seem to be frivolous at all.
posted by McSly at 1:16 PM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I should precise that in that case the charges were "trademark infringement" and "Unfair competition".
posted by McSly at 1:20 PM on March 31, 2008

I don't think this guy has a leg to stand on. According to INPI, you cannot trademark a single word that "designates" your services or product. Thus you could not trademark words such as "Hairdresser" or Hairdressing" (but "ABC Hairdresser" is OK). And this completely understandable. Imagine a world in which words such as beef or fruit would be tramde marks!

A quick look in the French trademark database shows that there is no registration for "Accommodation" (but there for "accommodationonline").
posted by bluefrog at 1:25 PM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm not even close to being a lawyer so take no notice of me at all but surely there is something generic about the word "accommodation". Does the other guy actually have a registered company or some other legal entity called accommodation?
posted by tetranz at 1:26 PM on March 31, 2008

According to Jessamyn's update, the name of the company is not just "Accommodation" but "[Place Name] Accommodation" (so "Paris Accommodation" or something) and the name "is not trademarked". Please, all you non-French-lawyers, feel free to render additional useful legal advice based on these new facts.

Please, get a lawyer, OP. In case it's clear there are a lot of idiots who know nothing about the law who are happy to tell you you have nothing to worry about. They may be right. They may also be very wrong. This is yet another area of the law where the Courts, at least in the U.S. disagree with the non-lawyer Internet geeks over and over and over again. Guess whose opinion matters.
posted by The Bellman at 1:33 PM on March 31, 2008

Metafilter: I am not your French lawyer.

[on topic: The Bellman's right. Free advice sounds great and feels good. Until shortly before that moment of time when everyone gets to say, "Aw geez, sorry about that," and walks away.]
posted by lothar at 1:55 PM on March 31, 2008

The Bellman, keep in mind that we don't have any information that the friend actually bought a keyword, which all of the cases you cite involve. The poster wrote:

someone is threatening to sue him if his site continues to come up in google searches for his company name

I'm close but not quite in the "get a lawyer" camp, mainly because we don't know if the friend's company is just coming up in the first ten results when someone types [PLACENAME ACCOMODATIONS], which seems to my unlawyerly eyes a sign the complainer is a crank or a jerk and could probably be pawned off with a polite letter saying you're happy to comply with all relevant law and will be happy to show any formal complaint to your lawyer when it arrives.
posted by mediareport at 6:14 AM on April 1, 2008

Oops, missed the implication of a keyword, sorry.
posted by mediareport at 6:15 AM on April 1, 2008

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