Articles Posted in Internet Law

Vienna, Virginia-based Immersonal, Inc., a consumer software and technology services company, has been sued for trademark infringement and related claims in Virginia federal court. Radio and Podcast personality, Ira Glass, and Chicago Public Media say Immersonal’s new “This American Startup” podcast infringes on their award-winning “This American Life” radio and podcast programs. The suit includes counts for trademark infringement and dilution, unfair competition and fraud, and violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.

According to the complaint, Mr. Glass has produced, aired, promoted and distributed the radio show, “This American Life,” since 1996. The show is part of the lineup of Chicago Public Media, an Illinois not-for-profit corporation, which has owned and operated a radio station since 1990. “This American Life” is a Peabody award-winning syndicated program on contemporary American culture, including fiction and nonfiction and original monologues, mini-dramas, documentaries, music and interviews. It is also available on the internet as a podcast and is downloaded about 700,000 times per week. In many weeks, it is the ThisAmericanLife.jpgmost popular podcast in the country. The program was turned into a television show between 2006 and 2008 and garnered several Emmy awards.

The plaintiffs allege further that the mark, “This American Life,” has been in continuous use since 1996 in entertainment and in connection with the audio program. The plaintiffs co-own this and related marks and have expended significant money and air time to promote and advertise their marks in various media. They say these efforts, combined with quality programming, have led consumers to associate “This American Life” with quality service. In turn, this acceptance and good will has opened the door to additional business opportunities associated with the marks. The plaintiffs claim the mark is famous given its duration of use, reach, extensive consumption and recognition.

As noted previously on this blog, the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (“ACPA”) permits litigation to be filed against an infringing domain name itself, not just against the owner of the domain name. Which entity should file responsive pleadings in such a case, the domain name or its owner? In Sauikit LLC v., the Eastern District of Virginia opined that form should not prevail over substance.

Saurikit brought an action against the domain name alleging violations of the ACPA. Defendant’s Answer stated that Cykon Technology (“Cykon”) owned the domain name, but the defendant’s attorney signed the answer “Counsel for” instead of “Counsel for Cykon.” Saurikit moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that there was no answer on file by a claimant since the property rather than the owner of the property filed the Answer.

A successful judgment on the pleadings requires the moving party to demonstrate that no issues of material fact exist and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In deciding a motion for a judgment on the pleadings, courts view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.

“Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” is one of the most popular holiday songs around and is played on radio stations across the country every Christmas season. It is also now the subject of contentious copyright litigation after a federal judge ruled recently that litigation over an allegedly unauthorized YouTube video containing audio of the song can continue despite the absence of a co-owner of the copyright.

Elmo Shropshire owns the copyright to the song along with Patsy Trigg d/b/a Kris Publishing. The copyright was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office on December 27, 1979. The defendant posted a video on YouTube–which has since been removed due to the pending litigation–which combined Christmas-related pictures with audio of a Canadian musical group, “The Irish Rovers,” singing the Grandma song. Shropshire contacted the poster and requested that he either pay the licensing fee or immediately remove the video. The poster refused.

Shropshire filed a copyright infringement suit in federal court, but his first (amended) complaint was dismissed because, among other reasons, Shropshire did not name Trigg or Kris Publishing in the lawsuit. The court gave him permission to amend, however, and the second time around, Shropshire named Kris Publishing as a defendant, but Kris Published settled out and was promptly dismissed. The defendant then filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that Patsy Trigg d/b/a Kris Publishing was a screenie.jpgnecessary and indispensable party and thus the suit could not go forward without her. The Court disagreed.

Does an employer have any sort of ownership interest in its employees’ tweets or Twitter following? This very current social-media question may be tested in a lawsuit originally filed last July in federal court in California by PhoneDog, a South Carolina-based company that reviews mobile phones and services online, against former employee Noah Kravitz. An amended complaint in the case, filed on November 29, 2011, has attracted considerable media attention.

When Kravitz worked for PhoneDog as a product reviewer and video blogger from 2006 to 2010, he tweeted under the handle @PhoneDog_Noah and attracted some 17,000 followers for his comments and opinions on Twitter. When he left the company, he continued tweeting under the name @NoahKravitz. But he didn’t create a new account with that name; instead, he kept the account (with all its followers) and just changed the Twitter handle to @NoahKravitz. Eight months later, PhoneDog sued Kravitz, alleging that his continued use of the account and his tweeting to his followers constitute a misappropriation of PhoneDog’s trade secrets, intentional interference with prospective economic relationships, and conversion. Phone Dog said that it had suffered loss of advertising revenue as a result and that Kravitz “was unjustly enriched by obtaining the business of PhoneDog’s Followers.”

PhoneDog essentially claims ownership rights due to the fact that it directs its employees to maintain Twitter accounts and instructs them to tweet links to PhoneDog’s website, thus increasing PhoneDog’s page views and generating advertising Kravitz.jpgrevenue for PhoneDog. PhoneDog said in the complaint that since Kravitz now works for TechnoBuffalo, a competitor of PhoneDog, he is exploiting PhoneDog’s confidential information on behalf of a competitor. PhoneDog is seeking $340,000 in damages — $2.50 per month per Twitter follower for eight months. Although PhoneDog said in the complaint that “industry standards” peg the value of a Twitter follower at $2.50 per month, the company did not give a source for that estimate. Nor did PhoneDog attempt to distinguish between people who followed Kravitz because of his connection to PhoneDog and those followers who are merely friends of his or enjoy his commentary.

Chanel, Inc., which like many other luxury-goods companies has been constantly plagued by counterfeiters, has taken its legal fight against unauthorized knock-offs to a whole new level. On November 14, 2011, acting at Chanel’s request, U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson of the District of Nevada signed an order that not only prohibits hundreds of alleged trademark infringers from manufacturing or selling fake Chanel handbags, wallets, shoes, and the like – but also orders the defendants’ domain names seized and transferred to the Web hosting company GoDaddy, which would direct them to a page describing the seizure. The temporary restraining order also orders that the counterfeiters’ domain names be “de-indexed” by Google, Bing, Yahoo, and all social media websites, specifically mentioning Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Chanel, Inc. had filed suit against several websites for selling counterfeit versions of its merchandise. Chanel hired an investigative firm to purchase several items from three of the websites named as defendants in the lawsuit. The investigators then sent those items to a Chanel consultant who determined that the merchandise was not genuine Chanel. The consultant also examined other merchandise offered for sale on these websites and determined that none of the items offered were authentic Chanel products. The defendant websites were not authorized dealers of Chanel products and therefore were in direct violation of Chanel’s trademark rights.

Chanel’s trademark lawyers obtained this injunctive relief by, among other things, pointing out that counterfeiters use search engine optimization (SEO) just as legitimate companies do, and that it was necessary for the court to shut down their ability to use the Web to compete unfairly with Chanel. “Chanel does contend that it has the right to fairly compete for such search Index.jpgengine results space unfettered by unfair competition stemming from an illegal use of Chanel’s trademarks,” Chanel’s lawyers wrote in the underlying motion.

If a blog is successful and gains name recognition among the public, with whom is the brand associated in the minds of readers, the publisher or the primary author of the blog? Apparently not a lot of thought has gone into this interesting question, as the New York Times did not apply for a trademark for its popular “Motherlode” parenting blog until its primary author, Lisa Belkin, left the Times to create “Parentlode” at The Huffington Post. Now it will be up to the courts to determine whether the Times has exclusive trademark rights to the “Motherlode” name and similar-sounding derivatives.

The New York Times Co. sued the Huffington Post and AOL, its parent company, on November 4, 2011, in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, seeking both injunctive relief and damages. NYT’s trademark lawyers argue in the complaint that the mark “Parentlode” is “clearly derived” from the Times’ established “Motherlode” trademark and that it was “intended to create an association with Ms. Belkin’s prior work” at the Times. According to the complaint, there is evidence that confusion already exists in readers’ minds between the “Motherlode” blog, which the Times is continuing to publish, and the new “Parentlode” blog at the Huffington Post. On Twitter, for example, someone wrote (incorrectly, the Times argues) that “The NYT’s Motherlode becomes HuffPo’s Parentlode.”

In her first “Parentlode” blog entry, Belkin referred to “Parentlode” as a “new name” that in a nonsexist manner includes fathers as well as mothers. The Times seized upon this statement and wrote that Belkin “clearly intended to create an association in the minds of readers between the two competing blogs, and further, [Belkin’s] reference to the ‘new name’ was a deliberateMommyBaby.jpg attempt to mislead readers into mistakenly believing it was the same blog, albeit with a slightly different name and location.”

Timelines, Inc., a small Chicago-based Internet company, has lost the first round of its legal efforts to obtain a court finding that Facebook infringed on its “Timelines” trademark when it announced its much-ballyhooed new feature, “Timeline.”

On Sept. 22, 2011, Facebook announced the “Timeline” feature, which will allow users to store and share their life events in chronological order on the site. Timelines, Inc., quickly filed a trademark infringement suit against Facebook, noting that it already has a registered trademark for the term “Timelines.” This mark refers, among other things, to a website that allows users to record and share events and contribute descriptions, photos, videos, geographic locations, and links related to events and people.

Arguing that there was a significant likelihood of confusion between its existing online product and the one just announced by Facebook, Timelines filed its lawsuit in order to avoid, in the words of the complaint, “being rolled over and quite possibly eliminated by the unlawful action of the world’s largest and most powerful social media company.”

United States District Judge John A. Gibney, Jr., sitting in Richmond, Virginia thought so little of the well-publicized shakedown tactics of the new wave of “copyright troll” lawyers–in this case practiced by Richmond lawyer Wayne O’Bryan–that he took it upon himself (without any Defendant asking for it) to issue a show-cause order against the lawyer demanding that he explain why his conduct should not be punished with Rule 11 sanctions.

The subject of the lawsuit at issue is Gangbang Virgins, a pornographic film allegedly downloaded by 85 unnamed “John Doe” defendants using popular peer-to-peer network BitTorrent. The Court initially granted the plaintiff permission to issue subpoenas to Internet Service Providers to learn the identities of the people behind the accused I.P. addresses. Later, however, Judge Gibney was apparently moved by some of the letters he received from the John Doe defendants. Several of the defendants, for example, notified the Court that the plaintiff made harassing telephone calls to them as soon as their identities were revealed, asking for a payment of $2,900 to end the litigation.

What the Court found particularly troubling was the lawyer’s behavior after certain defendants filed motions challenging their inclusion in the case. Rather than proceed to argue the merits of the motions in court, he routinely dismissed them, apparently to ensure the Court did not actually rule on any of the motions so that he could continue to threaten others. That, the Court found, amounted to nothing more than a “shake down” and an abuse of the Court’s resources.

Is Facebook violating New York privacy laws when it permits children to press the “like” button on the site to endorse advertisements without first receiving approval from their parents? That’s the question posed by a lawsuit filed on May 3, 2011, in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., by the father of a teenager there who is a member of the hugely popular social networking site. The case was brought as a class action on behalf of “all minors in New York whose names or likenesses were used by Facebook, Inc., for commercial purposes without the consent of the parents or guardians of said minors.” Anyone over the age of 12 can sign up for a Facebook account.

When any Facebook user, including a teenager, “likes” an advertisement, that preference appears on the Facebook page for that ad, the lawsuit says. This in turn is considered a “click” on that ad and generates revenue for Facebook, since it receives revenue from advertisers based on the number of users that “like” the advertisement. Facebook’s privacy settings don’t permit any users to prevent their names and pictures from appearing on advertising pages that they have “liked.” They can at any time withdraw their “like,” but as long as it is in effect, it will be considered a “click” and thus a “commercial use,” according to the complaint.

In order to sign up for Facebook, users, including those under age, agree to the following statement: “You can use your privacy settings to limit how your name and profile picture may be associated with commercial, sponsored or related content (such as a Like Button.jpgbrand you like) served or enhanced by us. You give us permission to use your name and profile picture in connection with that content, subject to the limits you place.” According to the complaint, however, “at no time does Facebook seek or obtain the consent of any parent or guardian of its minor users to use or sell the name and likeness of the child for commercial use by Facebook or third-party advertisers.”

On May 4, 2011, United States District Judge Claude M. Hilton of the Eastern District of Virginia issued an opinion rejecting a claim that LogMeIn Inc., a Boston-area computer-access company, had infringed a patent owned by Canadian competitor 01 Communique Laboratory Inc. Judge Hilton granted summary judgment of noninfringement for LogMeIn, finding that LogMeIn’s devices that permit a communication session between a personal computer and a remote computer cannot, as a matter of law, be construed to infringe 01’s patent, due to differences in the technology used by the competing devices.

In evaluating the patent claim, Judge Hilton reviewed the patent prosecution history and examined the way in which the Patent and Trademark Office and the inventor had previously described and understood the reach of the patent, including its limitations. The court found that LogMeIn’s product was dissimilar enough from 01’s intellectual property as to avoid any finding that infringement had occurred. Specifically, Judge Hilton found that 01’s patent, by its own admission, was to be limited to a system in which only a single device perform the multiple duties of the so-called “location facility,” including creating communication sessions, receiving a request for communication with the personal computer from the remote computer, locating the personal computer, and creating a communication channel between the remote computer and the personal computer. If several devices together performed those functions, the judge found, the patent’s claims were not implicated.

“The accused LogMeIn products do not have any ‘location facility’ that locates a personal computer and ‘itself’ creates a communication channel between a remote computer and the personal computer,” Judge Hilton wrote. “In briefing the Motion for Preliminary Injunction, 01 admitted that LogMeIn’s products function in precisely the manner that 01 told the PTO the ‘479LogMeIn Logo.jpg Patent does not cover – that is, by distributing the functions of the ‘location facility’ among different devices,” the judge added. No one component of the LogMeIn system itself performs all the needed functions of the “location facility” under the Court’s construction of the term, the judge noted.

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