Negative Branded Sites: A Slippery Slope

SEM Report Card , Wednesday, February 27, 2008 12:45 PM
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Consumers and consumer advocacy groups can create a Web site using a manufacturer's name or other branded term as part of the domain, even if it's to publish negative or positive reviews about the company or its products--as that has been legally deemed fair use on multiple occasions. But Tom Crandall questions whether it's still fair use if those sites are generating revenue from Google ads at the same time.

"How can this be considered non-commercial when the unauthorized party is leveraging the IP assets of another entity, in a disparaging way, to generate revenue? There's a lot of gray here," Crandall says. And he points to a University of Phoenix online gripe site as an example.

Using screenshots, Crandall shows that the gripe site uopsucks.com is running ads sponsored by Google on the top of the page--even above the page's header. The gripe site also ranks within the top 10 organic listings of a search for "University of Phoenix." So not only is the site profiting from use of the online university's brand, it's also hijacking part of the brand's search real estate.

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