Blocking Adwords Activism Using Trademark Law

from the hardly-what-trademark-is-for dept

Lawsuits involving companies upset at competitors buying Google Adwords based on their names have been covered to death, with a variety of court rulings (some good, some awful) over the years. In part due to all this legal activity, Google has cut back on some of what's allowed -- specifically limiting the use of trademarked names from others within an ad if the trademark holder complains. This likely goes well beyond what the law requires. For example, trademark law has always allowed the use of competitive names for comparison purposes. That is, Pepsi can say: "compare Pepsi to Coca-Cola!" and it's not a violation of Coca-Cola's trademark. But, with Google's policy in place, Pepsi can't use that as an ad if Coca-Cola complains.

Unfortunately, that can make things tricky for activists trying to highlight activities by certain companies. Jim Harper points us to Chris Soghoian's detailed analysis of this situation, where AT&T has been able to block ads from AT&T critics, because they happen to use AT&T's name in their ads. That's pretty clearly an abuse of trademark law, as it was never intended for such things. Of course, Google, as a private company, is free to do whatever it wants, and in this case it's clearly trying to minimize lawsuits -- but it is a bit troubling that the end result of this policy is to allow trademark law to be misused to block activist speech.


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