Court Tosses Lawsuit About 'Distasteful' Search Results
A federal court has dismissed a lawsuit against Yahoo by a woman who complained that search queries for her name resulted in links to porn sites, online pharmacies advertising Cialis, and the dating service AdultFriendFinder.com.
In her lawsuit, Elkhorn, Wisc. resident Beverly Stayart alleged that the search results violated her "right to control the use of her name with respect to commercial endorsement."
"Bev Stayart is a sophisticated, well-educated, and highly intelligent professional woman, with important and valuable friends and business contacts throughout the world," she alleged in her court papers.
Stayart also alleged that as an animal activist, genealogist and author of scholarly articles, her name has commercial value and is protected by trademark principles.
But U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Randa in Milwaukee ruled that Stayart wasn't using her name in commerce in a way that triggers trademark protection. "Stayart alleges that her name has commercial value, but it is clear that Stayart's complaint arises from the distasteful association of her name with pornographic images, advertisements for sexual dysfunction drugs, and a sexually-oriented dating service," he wrote in an opinion issued Friday.
He also ruled that Yahoo was protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act for claims based on content created by third parties. "Yahoo did not create the offending content and did not exert any control over the third party websites where the alleged infringement occurred," Randa wrote.
But if Stayart appeals, it's not clear that this portion of the ruling would be upheld. That's because the Communications Decency Act doesn't protect Web sites from intellectual property claims, such as trademark infringement. Randa acknowledged that problem in his written opinion -- but dismissed the complaint anyway. "Yahoo should be entitled to immunity because it acted as an interactive computer service, even though Stayart's claims are nominal intellectual property claims," he wrote.
While Randa dismissed the federal lawsuit, he also left Stayart an opening to refile some portions of her lawsuit in state court.
Online Media Daily's attempts to reach her on Wednesday were unsuccessful, and it wasn't clear from the court records whether she intends to appeal or bring her case again in state court.
A Yahoo spokesperson said the company was pleased with the decision. As the court recognized, "Yahoo had no part in creating the web content about which Mrs. Stayart complained," the spokesperson said.