Subject Matter Index All Decisions About Us Statutes Articles Online Resources Help

Home

Martin Samson, author of the Internet Library of Law and Court Decisions

Recent Addition

Designer Skin LLC v. S & L Vitamins, Inc., et al.
Unauthorized internet reseller of plaintiff’s products is not guilty of trademark infringement, and does not cause actionable initial interest confusion, by using plaintiff’s trademarks in meta tags of website at which plaintiff’s and its competitors’ products are sold, and in...

Complaint and Gripe Sites - Internet Library of Law and Court Decisions - Updated November 21, 2008

This section of the Internet Law Library contains court decisions which analyze the legality of consumer complaint web sites which are highly critical of a business entity.

Read my latest article, Pruning the Gripe Vine, published in the January 2005 edition of Corporate Counsel.

29 F. Supp. 2d 1161 (C.D.Cal., Nov. 23, 1998)

In Bally, the court awarded defendant summary judgment, dismissing claims of trademark infringement and dilution brought by plaintiff as a result of defendant's operation of a web site titled "Bally sucks", at which defendant airs criticism of plaintiff's health club operations. The site opens with the image of plaintiff's federally registered trademark "Bally", across which appears the word "sucks." The site states it is unauthorized, and no products are sold or offered for sale on the site. Plaintiff's trademark infringement claims failed because plaintiff could not establish that consumers were likely to be confused by this use of the "Bally" mark as to the source of the "Bally sucks" website. Quite the contrary, the court concluded that the average consumer would assume that plaintiff Bally neither approved nor sponsored the site. Plaintiff's dilution claim failed, in part, because defendant's use of the mark was not commercial, an essential element of a dilution claim. The court also held that a dilution by tarnishment claim could not be sustained as a result of the placement of a link on a website that, without authorization, contains a parties' trademark, which link took the user to another site which allegedly contained offensive materials, but not the trademark at issue. Of note, the court determined that a party has the right to use an entity's trademark in meta tags to promote a non-commercial site critical of the entity that owns the mark.

Index No. (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co., December 14, 2001)

Plaintiff bank brought defamation claims against defendant Mario Menendez-Rodriguez, a Mexican resident and journalist, defendant Narco News, a web site, and defendant Al Giordano, its publisher, arising, in part, out of statements defendants made concerning Roberto Hernandez-Ramirez, plaintiff's largest shareholder, general director and chairman of its board of directors, and the bank itself. In these statements, defendants accused Hernandez-Ramirez of being a "drug trafficker", and of having used gains from illegal endeavors to acquire the plaintiff bank. The Narco News also allegedly claimed that "bank officials have been arrested for drug-money laundering …". Defendants allegedly made the statements in question in a newspaper published in Mexico, Por Esto! with which defendant Menendez-Rodriguez is affiliated, in an interview given to The Village Voice, a New York publication, during a panel discussion at Columbia University in New York, and/or in articles published on the Narco News web site.

The court, on defendants' motions, dismissed the complaint. The claims advanced against defendant Menendez-Rodriguez were dismissed on the ground that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over him given the plaintiff's failure to allege facts sufficient to show that Menendez-Rodriguez, a non-resident, "transacted purposeful business activity bearing a substantial relationship to the subject matter of the lawsuit in [New York]." The defamation claims against the remaining defendants were dismissed as a result of plaintiff's failure to allege facts sufficient to state a claim against them. The court determined that these defendants were media defendants entitled to heightened protection under the First Amendment. Given that they were reporting on matters of public concern plaintiff, to state a claim against them, had to allege facts sufficient to show both that the statements they allegedly made were false, and that they were made with "actual malice," that is with knowledge that the statements were false or made with reckless disregard for the truth. The court held that plaintiff had not alleged facts sufficient to establish that the remaining defendants had acted with actual malice, given, inter alia, their reliance on articles appearing in Por Esto! for the statements they made, and accordingly dismissed the complaint against them.

No. CV-06-1537-PHX-DGC (D. Az., September 5, 2008)

Court in large part grants defendants’ motion for summary judgment, and dismisses claims arising out of defendants’ operation of a website on which third parties, and defendants themselves, posted a number of statements critical of plaintiff Best Western International Inc.  Left unresolved by the Court’s motion were plaintiff’s claims that a number of additional posts authored by defendants were in fact defamatory.

Best Western is a non-profit member corporation, which assists its members in running their hotels.  Defendants are members of Best Western who operate hotels, their spouses, and an individual who assisted in the creation of the website at issue.  The member defendants are bound by the terms of membership agreements with plaintiff. 

The Court held that the immunity granted defendants under the Communications Decency Act barred plaintiff from seeking to hold them liable for defamatory posts authored by third parties that appeared on defendants’ website.  Defamation claims arising out of 50 posts defendants themselves authored failed because plaintiff did not present sufficient evidence to establish that defendants acted with the requisite degree of fault necessary to sustain a defamation claim.  Thus, plaintiff failed to establish that defendants acted with either actual malice or negligence in making these statements, or with knowledge of their alleged falsity.   In reaching this result the Court noted that possessing ill will toward plaintiff was insufficient to establish ether that defendants acted with the requisite degree of fault, or that they were guilty of defaming plaintiff. 

The Court also rejected tortuous interference with contract or prospective advantage claims arising out of the posting on defendants’ site of statements urging plaintiff’s members to switch to a competitor’s organization.  The Court held that plaintiff failed to prove either that such statements caused it any injury, or that defendants or the competitor acted improperly in making these posts.  In reaching this result, the Court noted that plaintiff’s competitor is free to make posts that promote itself and its own economic interests.

Finally, the Court rejected various breach of contract claims advanced by plaintiff, asserting that defendants breached the parties’ membership agreement by making public confidential information, or failing to meet the membership agreement’s requirement to use their best efforts to maintain positive relationships with customers.  As to the former, the Court held there were no such prohibitions in the parties’ agreement that bound defendants.  As to the later, the Court held that the prohibitions applied to other aspects of defendants’ business, with which obligations defendants complied.

The Court did allow plaintiff Best Western to pursue breach of contract claims arising out of the use by the member defendants of Best Western’s trademark on the website at issue, which use purportedly violated the parties’ membership agreement.

2000 U.S. Dist. Lexis 14180, 119 F. Supp. 2d 309 (S.D.N.Y., September 28, 2000)

Court refuses to enjoin defendants from operating web sites critical of plaintiffs' business, or from utilizing plaintiffs' common-law service mark in meta tags on those sites to attract visitors seeking information about plaintiffs. The court also refused to enjoin defendants from continuing to publish allegedly libelous statements about plaintiffs on their web sites.

No. 04-3690 (3rd Cir., May 2, 2005)

In this domain name dispute, the Third Circuit affirms District Court's decision, enjoining defendant from continuing to use plaintiff's mark in the domain name of a gripe site he operated at that domain, and directing defendant to cancel his registration of that domain.  The courts' rulings were premised on their determinations that plaintiff, the Board of Directors of the Sapphire Bay Condominiums West, was likely to prevail on its claims that defendant's conduct infringed and diluted plaintiff's mark in violation of the Lanham Act.  Notably, defendant's gripe site initially proclaimed itself the "Official Web Site of Sapphire Bay Condominiums West."  The Third Circuit noted that its decision was "not precedential."

403 F.3d 672 (9th Cir., April 4, 2005)

In this domain name dispute, the Ninth Circuit holds that the use of another’s trademark as the domain name for a non-commercial gripe site does not constitute trademark infringement or dilution in violation of the Lanham Act.  To run afoul of the Lanham Act, a mark must be used in connection with the sale of goods or services.  A web site which is merely critical of another’s goods or services does not fit this bill.  The Ninth Circuit accordingly affirmed the District Court’s grant of summary judgment, dismissing plaintiff’s trademark infringement and dilution claims.

The Ninth Circuit reversed, however, so much of the District Court’s decision which dismissed plaintiff’s Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (“ACPA”) claim.  The ACPA does not have a commercial use requirement, and, accordingly, establishing that the mark was used as the domain for a non-commercial gripe site does not absolve the griper from potential liability under the ACPA.  Because that was the basis on which the lower court dismissed plaintiff’s ACPA claim, its dismissal was reversed.  The matter was remanded to the District Court to determine whether defendant used the mark with a bad faith intent to profit therefrom, in violation of the ACPA.

CV 2007-003720 (D. Ariz., October 24, 2007)

Court holds that the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”), 47 U.S.C. Section 230(c)(1), mandates dismissal of so much of plaintiff’s defamation claim that arises from the publication by third parties of comments critical of plaintiff on a website defendants operate known as the “ripoffreport.com.”  The CDA further mandates dismissal of claims arising out of defendants’ promotion of its site and the allegedly objectionable content thereon, making the site more accessible to search engines and users, or soliciting contributions to assist in making the information on the site available.  The Court did , however, allow plaintiff to pursue defamation claims arising out of the headlines for third party content authored by the defendants, which themselves purportedly contained defamatory content.

382 F.3d 774 (8th Cir., September 1, 2004)

Affirming the District Court, the Eighth Circuit holds that plaintiffs are likely to prevail on Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act ("ACPA") claims arising out of defendant's registration of numerous domain names incorporating plaintiffs' trademarks, which domains defendant linked to a website advocating a ban on abortions.  This anti-abortion website also contained links to other sites which solicited funds, via the sale of goods or donations, to aid anti-abortion causes.  In reaching this result, the Eighth Circuit rejected defendant's claim that his use of plaintiffs' trademarks in this fashion was protected by the First Amendment.

214 F.3d 456, No.99-2318 (4th Cir., June 2, 2000)

The Fourth Circuit vacated an injunction issued by the District Court which directed defendants to remove content from their web site critical of the plaintiff. The court held such relief warranted because the injunction failed to properly specify the reasons for its issuance as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 65(a). The court further held such relief warranted because the district court's injunction raised serious First Amendment concerns due to the injunction's apparent failure to "burden no more speech than necessary to serve a significant government interest." In reaching this conclusion, the Fourth Circuit stated: "[J]ust because speech is critical of a corporation and its business practices is not a sufficient reason to enjoin the speech. As the First Circuit stated, if a trademark owner could 'enjoin the use of his mark in a noncommercial context found to be negative or offensive, then a corporation could shield itself from criticism by forbidding the use of its name in commentaries critical of its conduct." The case was remanded to the District Court for further consideration.

489 F.3d 921, CV-03-09386-PA (9th Cir., May 15, 2007) aff'd en banc 2008 WL 879293 (9th Cir., April 3, 2008).

A divided three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit limited the immunity afforded by the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”), 47 U.S.C. section 230, for website operators involved in the publication and distribution of the responses to questionnaires completed by third parties concerning their roommate preferences. 
The Panel unanimously held that the CDA did not immunize defendant Roommates.com from potential liability for drafting and posting questionnaires that sought information from those using the site about their roommate preferences.  These questionnaires, among other things, sought information about the preferred sexual orientation of the prospective roommate, and were used to create member profiles.  The Panel held that the CDA did not immunize Roommates.com from potential liability under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) for requiring members to answer questions that potentially enabled other members to discriminate for or against them.

By a vote of 2 to 1, the Panel further held that the CDA did not immunize Roommates.com from potential liability under the FHA for publishing and distributing member profiles created in response to Roommates.com’s questionnaires.  Roommates.com used the content of a user’s responses to its questionnaires to determine who among its members should receive notice that they were seeking a roommate, and/or be permitted to view that user’s profile.  For example, an individual with children was not shown a listing for an apartment occupied by an individual seeking a roommate without children.  The court held that by categorizing, channeling and limiting the distribution of user profiles, Roommates.com was sufficiently involved in the creation of the distributed information to lose the immunity afforded by the CDA to interactive service providers who make available content drawn by third parties. As a result, the Ninth Circuit allowed plaintiffs to proceed with claims that by such conduct, Roommates.com violated the FHA.

Finally, by a vote of 2 to 1, the Court held that the CDA did immunize Roommates.com from potential FHA liability arising out of its publication of users’ responses to Roommates.com’s requests for “Additional comments” concerning their roommate preferences.  In this section of its questionnaire, Roommates.com “strongly recommend[ed the user] tak[e] a moment to personalize your profile by writing a paragraph or two describing yourself and what you are looking for in a roommate.”  This question produced the most provocative – and potentially discriminatory - responses found in user profiles.  The court held that the responses to this question constituted content created by third parties within the meaning of the CDA.  As a result, held the Court, by application of the CDA, Roommates.com could not be held liable for publishing these responses on its website.

177 F. Supp. 2d 661, 2001 U.S. Dist. Lexis 21302 (E.D. Michigan, December 20, 2001)

Court denies Ford Motor Company's motion for a preliminary injunction seeking to enjoin defendants from continuing to automatically redirect users from a web site defendants operate at www.fuckgeneralmotors.com to the web site operated by Ford at www.ford.com. Defendants achieve this redirection via a link embedded in the programming code of defendants' web site, which link utilizes Ford's mark. The court held that Ford could not succeed on the merits of its federal trademark dilution claim, because defendants were not using plaintiff's mark in commerce. The court further held that Ford could not succeed on its trademark infringement and unfair competition claims, because defendants were not using plaintiff's mark in connection with the sale, or advertising for sale, of any goods or services. Finding that plaintiff would not succeed on the merits of its claims, the court denied plaintiff's motion.

No. 07-956-PHX-FJM (D.Az. October 10, 2007)

Court dismisses defamation claims advanced against defendant, operator of the website ripoffreport.com, arising out of defendants’ publication of statements authored by a third party that were critical of plaintiffs.  The Court held such claims barred by application of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”), 47 U.S.C. Section 230.  Notably, the court refused to issue plaintiff relief notwithstanding the fact that the author of the statements at issue allegedly requested without success that defendants remove them from ripoffreport.com.

The Court also declined to enforce a preliminary injunction issued on default by a Canadian court, directing defendants to remove the statements at issue from their website, on the ground that United States courts will not enforce injunctions issued by foreign courts.

Civil Action No. 03-11437-GAO, 2005 U.S. Dist. Lexis 2804 (D. Mass., February 24, 2005)

Court finds that a disgruntled customer violated the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act ("ACPA") by registering a domain name containing defendant Microfinancial's trademark, at which domain plaintiff operated a website critical of defendant.  The Court determined that plaintiff had registered the domain name with a bad faith intent to profit therefrom, in large part because plaintiff had offered to transfer the domain to Microfinancial if it refunded certain lease payments plaintiff had made which were at the heart of his dispute with defendant, as well as funds plaintiff claims defendant improperly received from third parties.  The Court accordingly granted Microfinancial summary judgment on its ACPA claim.

Civ. No. 02-0400 CW (N.D.Ca., Mar. 22, 2002) vacated and amended (N.D.Ca., Mar. 28, 2003)

Court issues preliminary injunction, enjoining defendants, direct competitors of plaintiffs who operate a commercial website containing information critical of plaintiff, from continuing certain uses of plaintiff's trade name on that site.  The injunction enjoined defendants from using plaintiff's mark in ways designed to dramatically increase the site's ranking on search engines in response to queries for plaintiff's trade name.  The court enjoined defendants from "using 'J.K. Harris' or any permutation thereof as a keyword for the taxes.com website more often than is necessary to identify the content of the website," from using header tags and underline tags around sentences containing plaintiff's trade name, or from increasing the prominence and font size of sentences which include plaintiff's trade name.  The court denied plaintiff's request to enjoin defendants from making any use of plaintiff's trade name on the site however, holding that defendants could use the trade name in links to other sources of information about plaintiff on the web, as well as in disseminating truthful factual information about plaintiff, provided such use, as noted above, was "reasonably necessary" and not excessive.

The court also enjoined defendants from continuing to post on its website several identified negative statements about plaintiff, derived from third parties, which plaintiff claimed were false and/or misleading.

253 F.Supp.2d 1120, Civ. No. 02-0400 CW (N.D.Ca., Mar. 28, 2003)

Court denies plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction, and refuses to enjoin defendant, a direct competitor, from repeatedly using plaintiff's trade name on a web site containing information critical of plaintiff.  The challenged uses were designed to and did dramatically increase the site's ranking on search engines in response to queries for plaintiff's name.  The Court held that such use was a permitted nominative fair use of plaintiff's trade name. 

The Court rendered this decision on defendants' motion for reconsideration.  In reaching this result, the Court vacated its prior order, enjoining defendants from using plaintiff's mark in ways designed to dramatically increase the site's ranking on search engines.  In this vacated order, the court had enjoined defendants from "using 'J.K. Harris' or any permutation thereof as a keyword for the taxes.com website more often than is necessary to identify the content of the website," from using header tags and underline tags around sentences containing plaintiff's trade name, or from increasing the prominence and font size of sentences which include plaintiff's trade name.  In this vacated order, the court denied plaintiff's request to enjoin defendants from making any use of plaintiff's trade name on the site however, holding that defendants could use the trade name in links to other sources of information about plaintiff on the web, as well as in disseminating truthful factual information about plaintiff, provided such use was "reasonably necessary" and not excessive.

The court also enjoined defendants from continuing to post on its website several identified negative statements about plaintiff, derived from third parties, which plaintiff claimed were false and/or misleading.

993 F. Supp. 282 (D.N.J. Mar. 6, 1998) aff'd. 159 F. 3d 1351 (3d Cir. 1998)

In this domain name dispute, the court enjoined defendant's unauthorized operation of a website at "jewsforjesus.org" which site was highly critical of the plaintiff organization "Jews for Jesus." Plaintiff owned a federally registered trademark in the phrase "jews for jesus" with the "o" depicted as a Jewish Star, and a common law service mark in the phrase "jews for jesus." Defendant's conduct constituted violations of the Lanham Act's prohibitions against trademark infringement, dilution and unfair competition, as well as various New Jersey state statutes. Neither the fact that defendant did not use an identical replica of plaintiff's mark in its domain name nor the disclaimer that appeared on defendant's site pronouncing its nonaffilation with plaintiff's organization were sufficient to alter the court's view. Moreover, defendant's conduct was found to be "in commerce" and "in connection with goods or services", essential prerequisites to plaintiff's federal Lanham Act claims, even though defendant did not offer anything for sale on his site, nor solicit funding for his activities. The fact that defendant's site was intended to harm and disparage plaintiff, and contained a link to an unaffiliated site which sold merchandise made such conduct commercial.)

360 F. Supp. 2d 768 (E.D. Va., August 5, 2004)

Court holds plaintiff infringed defendants' trademarks, and violated the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act ("ACPA"), as a result of his operation of a 'typo' web site at the domain Fallwell.com at which he criticized the Rev. Falwell's views on homosexuality, and expressed his own contrary views on that subject.  At one time, the site informed interested visitors of a book plaintiff considered relevant to this discussion, and provided a link to Amazon.com at which they could purchase it.  The Court reached this result notwithstanding the fact that plaintiff's site featured a prominent disclaimer, advising users that it was not defendants' official site.

314 F. Supp. 2d 362 (D.N.J., March 30, 2004)

Court holds that defendant's use of plaintiff's service mark in the domain names of noncommercial web sites critical of plaintiff does not constitute a violation of the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act ("ACPA") because this was a "bona fide noncommercial" use of the mark which defendant had reasonable grounds to believe was lawful.  In reaching this result, the Court determined that defendant was motivated not by an intent to use his critical web site to extract money from plaintiff, but instead by a desire to express his dissatisfaction with plaintiff's alleged conduct.  The Court accordingly granted defendant's motion for partial summary judgment, and dismissed plaintiff's ACPA claim.  Left for another day were libel and trade libel claims arising out of the sites' content, as well as a Federal Dilution Act claim under 15 U.S.C. § 1125(c) arising out of the defendant's use of plaintiff's service mark.

378 F.3d 1002 (9th Cir., 2004), cert. denied (2005)

Applying the "initial interest confusion" doctrine, the Ninth Circuit holds that defendant Nissan Computer's display of advertisements promoting the sale of automobiles on its Nissan.com website infringes the trademark held by plaintiff Nissan Motors in its federally registered "Nissan" trademark, and accordingly affirms the District Court's decision enjoining defendants from continuing such activity. 

The Court further holds, however, that Nissan Computer's display of links on its site to a web site operated by a company owned by Uzi Nissan, the owner of Nissan Computer, which web site purports to describe the instant litigation and contains disparaging remarks about Nissan Motors, is non-commercial speech that neither infringes plaintiffs' mark nor runs afoul of the Federal Trademark Dilution Act despite its potentially negative impact on plaintiffs' commercial activities.  The Ninth Circuit holds such speech protected by operation of the First Amendment, and accordingly reverses so much of the District Court's decision that enjoined defendant Nissan Computer from placing such links on its Nissan.com site. 

Finally the Court held that issues of fact prevented a determination at this time as to whether defendants' use of plaintiffs' Nissan mark violated the FTDA.  To establish such a dilution claim, held the Court, the plaintiff must establish that its mark was famous when defendant first commenced a potentially diluting use thereof.  Disagreeing with the court below, the Ninth Circuit held that such use commenced when defendant began to call its business 'Nissan Computer,' and not when it subsequently registered the Nissan.com domain name for use in that business.  As there was an issue of fact as to whether the Nissan mark was famous as of 1991, when Nissan Computer commenced its operations, the court denied plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, and remanded the question of defendants' violation of the Federal Trademark Dilution Act to the District Court.

115 F. Supp.2d 1108, Civ. No. 00-308 (DSD/JMM) (D. Minn. September 25, 2000)

Court denies plaintiff's application for a preliminary injunction, enjoining defendant from operating a web site critical of plaintiff and its business practices at the domain www.northlandinsurance.com

97 Civ. 0629 (KNW)(S.D.N.Y. March 26, 1997), aff'd. 152 F. 3d 920 (2d Cir., Feb. 9, 1998), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 834 (1998)

Defendant enjoined from continuing to utilize plaintiff's service mark, Planned Parenthood, in its domain name, at which is found a web site featuring references to a book espousing anti-abortion positions. Such use held to violate Lanham Act and not to be protected by First Amendment

No. 99-55106, 236 F.3d 1035 (9th Cir., January 8, 2001), withdrawn, 262 F.3d 972 (9th Cir., August 28, 2001)

Ninth Circuit holds that the unauthorized access and review of the contents of a password protected web site can constitute violations of both the Wiretap Act, 18 USC §§ 2510-2520, and the Stored Communications Act, 18 USC §§ 2701-2710. The court further holds that an employer's accessing without authorization of such a web site created by one of its employees, which site is critical of officers of the employer and urges company employees to consider alternative union representation, can constitute impermissible surveillance of union organizing activities in violation of the Railway Labor Act, 45 USC § 152. The Ninth Circuit accordingly reversed the decision of the District Court below, denied defendant's motion for summary judgment, and reinstated plaintiff's claims.

319 F.3d 770 (6th Cir., February 7, 2003)

Reversing the court below, the Sixth Circuit dissolves an injunction which enjoined defendants from using plaintiff's trademarks in conjunction with the word "sucks" in the domain name of several "complaint" sites, as well as in the domain name of a non-commercial "fan" site.  The Sixth Circuit held that defendants' use of plaintiff's mark in a 'fan' site did not run afoul of Section 1114 of the Lanham Act because of the presence of both a prominent disclaimer on the site disavowing any affiliation with plaintiff, and a link to plaintiff's official web site.  Defendant's use of plaintiff's marks in conjunction with the word "sucks" in the domain names of non-commercial complaint sites did not violate Section 1114 of the Lanham Act because there was no likelihood of consumer confusion arising therefrom, and because such speech is protected by the First Amendment.

Case No. 1:04cv510 (S.D. Ohio June 15, 2007)

Court allows plaintiff Taylor Building Corporation of America (“Taylor Building”) to proceed with libel claims arising out of the publication of a gripe site critical of plaintiff’s work by a relative of a disgruntled customer.  The Court denies so much of defendant’s motion for summary judgment which sought to dismiss these claims holding, inter alia, that issues of fact as to whether publication of the statements on this website were sufficiently limited to ‘proper parties’ so that their publication was protected by the qualified privilege applicable to statements made to protect the public interest precluded such an award.

The Court did grant so much of defendant’s motion for summary judgment which sought to dismiss “initial interest confusion” Lanham Act claims plaintiff asserted arising out of defendant’s use on his gripe site of a service mark and trade dress allegedly similar to those of the plaintiff.  The Court held such claims failed because consumers were not likely to be confused as to the source of defendant’s site, or attribute it to the plaintiff, as the site was critical of plaintiff, was found at the domain Taylor Homes – Ripoff.com, and bore a “header” that stated “Taylor Homes Ripoff.  Badly Fingering Your Dreams.  Taylor Sold Us A Quality Home and Gave Us Garbage.”

Finally, the Court dismissed plaintiff’s tortuous interference with contractual and business relations claims.  The Court held that plaintiff had failed to demonstrate that defendant had sufficient knowledge of the actual contracts or relationships allegedly interfered with by the operation of his gripe site to sustain such claims.

368 F.3d 433 (5th Cir. 2004)

Reversing the District Court, the Fifth Circuit holds that defendant's operation of a non-commercial gripe site at a domain which varied from plaintiff's mark solely by the subtraction of the letter "s" did not violate either the Federal or Texas State Dilution Acts, nor did it run afoul of the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act ("ACPA").  The Court determined that defendant's actions were not motivated by the requisite bad faith intent to profit from the use of the mark, but rather, by defendant's desire to inform the public about his dispute with plaintiff and the services it offered him.  The absence of such bad faith was fatal to plaintiff's ACPA claim.  Plaintiff's Federal Dilution Act claim failed because defendant's use was not commercial.

188 F. Supp. 2d 110 (D. Mass., Mar. 6, 2002)

Court holds that defendant violated the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act by registering sixteen domain names containing misspellings of plaintiff’s trademark, at which domains defendant operated web sites that voiced his complaints about plaintiff’s business practices.  Defendant did not offer any goods or services for sale at these web sites, and there is no mention in the record of any attempts by defendant to try and sell the domain names to the plaintiff.

No. 82S04-0008-CV-477 (Sup. Crt. Ind., October 1, 2001)

The Supreme Court of Indiana affirmed in part and reversed in part the decisions of the courts below. The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed those portions of the lower courts' decisions that held that Dr. Felsher had violated the privacy rights of three University of Evansville employees by, inter alia, creating e-mail accounts and web sites containing their last name, first initial, and the letters UE (an abbreviation for University of Evansville), sending e-mail from such accounts nominating the employees for various positions at other institutions, and referring the reader of such e-mail to the web sites defendant created which contained materials critical of the three employees. The Supreme Court affirmed that portion of the decisions below which held that such conduct violated the individual defendants' privacy rights, and enjoined defendant from engaging in such conduct in the future. The Supreme Court reversed those portions of the decisions below which held that Felsher, by his acts, had also violated the privacy rights of the University of Evansville on the grounds that a corporation does not possess a right to privacy. The court held that the University may be able to obtain redress for any misuse of its name by asserting claims under other theories, such as unfair competition, which had not yet been plead.

Case No. D2005-0130 (WIPO, April 10, 2005)

In this domain name dispute brought under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy ("UDRP"), the presiding Panelist directed Jeff Milchen ("Milchen") to transfer to Wal Mart the domain name walmartfacts.biz Milchen had registered. In reaching this result, the Panelist held that a professed intention to use a domain name in the future to operate a gripe site critical of Wal-Mart was insufficient to establish the legitimate interest in that domain necessary to defeat complainant's claim under the UDRP, when such an intention had not yet been acted upon.

Case No. 2:04-cv-47-FtM-34SPC (M.D. Fla., February 15, 2008)

In the latest chapter of this long running dispute, the District Court holds that the Communications Decency Act, 47 USC Section 230, immunizes defendants from defamation claims arising out of the posting on their site – The Rip-Off Report - of allegedly defamatory statements about plaintiff that were allegedly authored by third parties.  In reaching this result, the Court rejected plaintiff’s contention that defendants were sufficiently involved in the creation of the posts at issue to be denied CDA immunity because they offered such third party posters the opportunity to categorize their reports in categories such as ‘con artists’, ‘corrupt companies’ and ‘false TV advertisements.’  The Court further held that plaintiff had failed to submit evidence sufficient to establish that defendants were involved in authoring the particular defamatory statements at issue so as to lose the immunity offered by the CDA.

No. 06-11888 (11th Circuit, August 1, 2006)

Eleventh Circuit holds that plaintiff's defamation claims against operators of consumer complaint sites arising out of the posting on those sites of allegedly defamatory complaints purportedly authored by third parties is sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss predicated on the immunity afforded the operators of interactive computer services under the Communications Decency Act ("CDA").  The complaint alleged that defendants edited consumer complaints to include words such as "ripoff" and "scam", and fabricated others.  The ultimate resolution of defendants' entitlement to immunity for their involvement in the publication of the posts at issue will have to await the trial of this matter.

As a result of this determination, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the decision of the District Court, which had dismissed the action for want of personal jurisdiction.  The lower court's decision was grounded on its determination that no tort was committed by defendants in Florida, due to the application of the CDA.   The Eleventh Circuit rejected this determination, and remanded the matter to the District Court to determine whether the Court could appropriately exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendants consistent with the strictures of the Due Process clause of the United States Constitution.

Quick Hits

Emory M. Davis, et al. v. Frank Mitan
Civil Action No. 06-88-C (W.D. Ky., August 14, 2006).

Court holds that adding additional allegedly defamatory material to a preexisting website constituted republication of the website that started anew the running of the statute of limitations for libel claims arising out of the statements contained therein.  The Court accordingly affirmed so much of the lower court’s decision which denied the Davises’ motion to dismiss Frank Mitan’s defamation claim on the ground that it was barred by the applicable one-year statute of limitations, as the instant lawsuit was commenced within one year from such republication.  In reaching this result, the court held that the single publication rule is applicable to internet publications – in this case a website critical of the Mitans.  In its decision the Court cogently stated the applicable rules of both single publication and republication.  Said the Court:

The single publication rule holds that any form of mass communication or aggregate publication – such as the publication of an edition of a book or a periodical, or the broadcast of a single radio or television program – is a single communication and can give rise to only one action for libel.  The rule applies only to those cases where communication is simultaneously available to multiple persons.  Its purposes are to prevent a multiplicity of actions, to protect the defendant from excessive liability based on a single publication run; to allow the plaintiff to recover all of his damages at once; and to reduce the chilling effect that the common law rule might have on the mass communications of ideas.  Under the single publication rule, the statute of limitations runs as soon as the communication enters the stream of commerce. 

An exception to the single publication rule is the doctrine of republication.  Republishing material – including publishing a second edition or a book or periodical, editing and republishing defamatory material, or placing it in a new form – resets the statute of limitations.  This exception provides the plaintiff with a remedy where the defendant edits and retransmits the defamatory material, or distributes the defamatory material for a second time with the goal of reaching a new audience.  The narrow question in this case is whether posting new information to a defamatory website resets the statute of limitations under the republication doctrine.  As the Supreme Court of Kentucky has not spoken on this issue, the court relies on persuasive authority from other jurisdictions.

The mere act of editing a website to add unrelated content does not constitute republication of unrelated defamatory material that is posted on the same website.  Similarly, mere technical changes to a website such as changing the way an item of information is accessed is not republication.  …  In contrast, where substantive material is added to a website, and that material is related to defamatory material that is already posted, a republication has occurred.  To hold otherwise would give a publisher carte blance to continue to publish defamatory material on the Internet after the statute of limitations has run in the first instance.

In this case the Bankruptcy Court found that the new material on the
Davises’ website contained substantive information related to Kenneth, and by reference the Mitan family.  Having found these necessary facts, the Bankruptcy Court correctly analyzed Mitan, Firth and Churchill and held that a republication had occurred which restated the statute of limitations.  As the adversary proceeding was filed within one year of the updates to the Davises’ website it was timely filed.


Finally, the Court remanded the case to the Bankruptcy court to reconsider the scope of the injunctive relief awarded.  The Davises’ website addressed not only Frank Mitan, but other Mitans as well.  The Bankruptcy court enjoined the Davises from further publication of their website in toto – including references both to Frank Mitan, which were found to be defamatory, as well as the other Mitans.  In light of the foregoing, the court remanded the case to the Bankruptcy Court for further consideration of the appropriate scope of relief.

Download PDF of Court Decision

Chris Gregerson v. Vilana Financial Inc., et al.
2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 64960, Civ. No. 06-1164 ADM/AJB (D. Minn., August 31, 2007)

On the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court finds the corporate defendants guilty of copyright infringement as a result of their unauthorized use of two of plaintiff’s copyrighted photographs in advertisements for their businesses. 

The Court further held that defendant Andrew Vilenchik, the sole board member and shareholder of defendant Vilana Financial, could not be held vicariously liable for defendant’s copyright infringement, because he did not have or derive a sufficiently direct financial interest from the use of plaintiff’s photographs.

The Court granted plaintiff summary judgment, dismissing defendants’ claim that his use of defendants’ trademark in the path of his site’s domain name violated the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.  Defendants’ claim failed both because they failed to submit sufficient evidence that plaintiff had a bad faith intent to profit from this use of the mark, and because use of the mark in the path of the domain name does not constitute actionable use of the mark in a domain name

The Court also dismissed trademark infringement claims brought by defendants as a result of plaintiff’s use of their trademark in a website that purportedly disparaged defendants as a result of their use of the photographs at issue, and in the meta tags of that site.  The court held defendants failed to establish the requisite likelihood of consumer confusion sufficient to sustain such a claim, given that the parties were not competitors – plaintiff was a photographer, and defendants sold real estate and mortgage services – and plaintiff’s website was highly critical of defendants.  In reaching this result the court noted that “a defendant’s use of a trademark in metatags in a descriptive manner can constitute a non-infringing fair use.”

Finally, the Court left for trial defendants’ remaining claims, which included deceptive trade practices, interference with contractual and business relationships, and misappropriation of name and likeness, all of which arose out of the disparaging remarks posted on plaintiff’s website about the defendants.  This site included a photograph of defendant Vilenchik.  Because issues of fact existed as to the truth of these statements, the court reserved decision on these claims until trial.

It should be noted that plaintiff ultimately prevailed at trial, was awarded approximately $20,000 on his copyright infringement claims, and that defendants’ remaining claims were dismissed.

Download PDF of Court Decision

Chris Gregerson v. Vilana Financial Inc., et al.
2006 WL 3227762, Civil No. 06-1164 ADM/AJB (D. Minn., Nov. 7, 2006)

Court denies defendants’ motion for a preliminary injunction, which sought to enjoin plaintiff from using defendants’ registered service and trademarks in the meta tags and “subject lines” of his website.  Plaintiff is a photographer who claimed that defendants, without authorization or payment, used a photograph in which he held copyright in an advertisement.  Plaintiff commenced suit against defendants for copyright infringement.  Plaintiff’s website described his view of defendants’ conduct, in a manner which disparaged, and according to defendants, defamed them.  As the site existed at the time of the hearing, it contained a prominent disclaimer, announcing it “is a criticism of” defendants.  Defendants’ counterclaim asserted claims of defamation and trademark infringement, and relied, in part, on the initial interest confusion created by plaintiff’s use of defendants’ marks.

The Court denied defendants’ motion for injunctive relief, holding defendants had not sufficiently established a likelihood of success on the merits.  Said the Court:

In the instant case, Defendants’ motion must be denied because they are unable to establish the first prong of the analysis, likelihood of success on the merits.  ‘A defendant’s use of a trademark in metatags in a descriptive manner can constitute a non-infringing fair use.’

Download PDF of Court Decision

Disclaimer  |  Attorney Advertising
© Copyright 1997-2016 Martin H. Samson All Rights Reserved
Printer Friendly