Once Again, Court Backs Gripe Sites
In a ruling quietly issued late last week, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Cleland in the eastern district of Michigan dismissed a lawsuit brought by a consortium of recruiters called Career Agents Network against the operator of two critical sites.
Career Agents Network alleged that the sites -- careeragentsnetworkbiz.com and careeragentnetworksbiz.com -- created by the businessman Lawrence White, violated its trademark and a federal cybersquatting law by incorporating its name into the domain names. The sites themselves warned people off Career Agents Network: "If you are considering investing in this 'opportunity', be aware that it is highly improbable that you will earn enough to cover your investment. If you proceed with this company you have been warned by those that know and have lost $20,000-$150,000 by trusting them and their 'plan,'" read the copy on the sites.
White created the sites after a falling out with Career Agents Network, according to Cleland's written decision. He also took the unusual step of using a search engine optimizer to drive traffic to the sites, Cleland wrote.
Still, the sites were themselves noncommercial and, therefore, didn't infringe on copyright or violate the cybersquatting law, Cleland ruled. "There is no evidence that defendants [White and a marketing company in which he was the majority shareholder] used these 'gripe' websites for commercial gain to themselves," he wrote in an opinion dismissing Career Agents Network's lawsuit.
Obviously, some image-conscious companies don't always like the things they see online. But as courts have repeatedly ruled, that doesn't mean the companies are entitled to stop the conversation.