Vanity Searcher Loses Autocomplete Lawsuit Against Google
Siding with Google, a federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit by a vanity searcher who said the company's autocomplete feature wrongly associated her name with the drug Levitra.
Bev Stayart -- a Wisconsin resident who has sued Yahoo in the past -- alleged in the current case that Google violated a state privacy law by wrongly suggesting the phrase "Bev Stayart Levitra" when people searched for her name. Wisconsin law prohibits the use of people's names in ads without their consent.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that claim on Wednesday. "Stayart has not articulated a set of facts that can plausibly lead to relief under Wisconsin's misappropriation laws," the appellate court ruled.
The appeals court gave two reasons for the decision. One was that the autocomplete feature's purpose isn't primarily commercial. The second is that any link between Stayart and Levitra was newsworthy, and therefore fell within an exception to the law.
The judges reached that conclusion based on the fact that Stayart previously sued Yahoo for allegedly associating her name with Levitra. "The search term 'bev stayart levitra' is a matter of public interest primarily because Stayart has made it one -- and, given the current lawsuit, ensures that it remains so," a three-judge panel of the court wrote.
This decision marks the second time this year that a court has rejected an attempt to apply Wisconsin's privacy law to search results. Last month, a state appeals court threw out a lawsuit against a law firm that used the names of rivals to trigger pay-per-click ads
Stayart has lost several previous stemming from vanity searches for her name. As far back as 2009, a trial judge in Milwaukee dismissed a trademark infringement lawsuit by Stayart against Yahoo. In that case, she alleged in her complaint that search queries for her name resulted in links to porn sites, online pharmacies advertising Cialis, and the dating service AdultFriendFinder.com.