United Airlines Sues Passenger Complaint Site Untied

from the really-now? dept

I had really thought that we’d reached the point where lawyers working for large, well-known companies recognize just how incredibly stupid it is to file lawsuits against websites that criticize them. Sure, a decade ago or so, it was common for big companies to go after so called “sucks sites” or “complaints sites,” often alleging trademark infringement. But, at some point, many of them realized that (a) trademark complaints were a dead end since there was no confusion and (b) that these lawsuits only drew a lot more attention to the sites in question. Apparently, however, there are still some throwback lawyers working for United Continental, and they’ve decided to go after a popular passenger complaints site that goes by the creative domain Untied.com.

Untied has been around for fifteen years — so you’d think United would be used to it. However, apparently they got pissed off that Untied redesigned its site to look something like United’s current design. The top image is the Untied complaint site as it looked recently (it has since added some more features to make it clear that it’s not actually United’s site). The bottom image is United’s site:

There are obvious similarities. The guy behind Untied, Jeremy Cooperstock, insists that this makes sense since his site is a form of parody. While the likelihood of confusion argument is certainly stronger here (currently when you visit the website, you have to agree to a popup that warns you the site is not United’s), I still wonder how reasonable the lawsuit is. Cooperstock insists that it’s a SLAPP suit, though others think United may have a legit claim.

No matter where this falls legally, however, I can’t see how this could possibly make sense from a business standpoint. The end result — win or lose — is going to be that a lot more people become aware of Untied, and are likely to think of United as being a big bully against the small guy helping passengers who had bad experiences with the airline. Of course, some of the details may be in the actual filing, which doesn’t seem to be public yet. The lawsuit was filed in Canada, and the docket page doesn’t have the actual filing yet. Oddly, however, it does claim that the case is about patent infringement. I’m going to assume that’s a data entry error somewhere, however…

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: united

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “United Airlines Sues Passenger Complaint Site Untied”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Looks legitimate to me

I’d say this is a pretty valid trademark claim.

So people are purchasing tickets for airtravel from Untied Airlines now.

What does Untied Airlines fly anyhow? A fleet of Cessnas? And these poor folks all thought they were getting tickets for flights on a modern jet airplane.

Yeah, looks cut’n’dried.

out_of_the_blue says:

Meanwhile, off topic but a thousand times more important:


Drudge Report has a dozen items more important than United/Untied, Mike. How about the Germans going after Google for taxes?

I get an hour’s worth of news in a week here. Try harder.

Support Mike “Streisand Effect” Masnick’s proprietary interest!
He innovated the term all by himself! He alone! It’s HIS!

Anonymous Coward says:

My .02: Suck it, United. This is a textbook “fair use” case. A “moron in a hurry” will first have to click a button acknowledging that it’s not United. If that’s not obvious enough, it says so all over the place. The United logo is clearly differentiated by that red frowning face, and the deliberate mis-spelling of United is clearly highlighted in red. I really don’t see a court ruling in United’s favor on this one.

That said, it does remind me of that commercial that featured a basketball decorated to look like Luis Vuitton. As I recall, LV won that one, so I guess United figures it can afford to roll the dice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: outdated screen shot

I’m sure they mean that, this is likely the design you’re being sued over. It wouldn’t do much good to show your current site if you’ve made it less like theirs in the meantime.

Anyone taking two seconds to look at your site as shown above would realize this is not the United site. Maybe this actually IS about patent infringement, and they think you copied some patented element of their page?

Brendan (profile) says:

Re: outdated screen shot

It still looks pretty similar to me. I can tell the details are different, but I wouldn’t say the layout is substantially changed. It felt like I was playing “spot the differences” like the picture game in a kids magazine. That said, I completely support your case as parody/ sucks site.

I’m more curious why this was filed in canada. Are you based north of the border?

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well, to be fair, those people are morons. If you click an “I understand” on a window that says “We are not United Airlines”, then you’re kinda a moron (And your complaint against United is probably only in your head anyways).

Though, I think that blows the whole “moron in a hurry” test out of the water. They still aren’t a competing website.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Not necessarily, how many people do you know that read the popups?

I know a lot of folks that click on anything they see so as to get to what they want to see faster.

I can see United Airlines winning this one, specially if they can show that people got confused and believed they were complaining to them and not to somebody else, which apparently some folks did in fact do it.

Nonetheless the website could just change its color scheme, format and all would be well, or they could put in big a. letters that they are not involved with United Airlines in any way.

It is sad that they may have to change though, United Airlines should be using that webiste as a sensor to improve themselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

Survival Situation

Survival Situation:

You were in an Untied Airlines Cessna. It done crashed. Badly.

The pilot and copilot are dead, but you and your classmate are unharmed. The flight plan specified a 3-hour sightseeing tour over “North Pole”, but doesn’t indicate whether that’s the geographic north pole or magnetic north pole. You think the advertising for the tour might have been misleading, ’cause before the plane took off you didn’t even know were different kinds of north poles. You think you crashed about half an hour after the pilot pointed out an abandoned DEW-line station on the ground. Since then, you’ve been flying at “cruising speed” and the sun has been shining in through the copilot’s window.

You have 15 items with which to survive:

1) A magnetic compass
2) …

Anonymous Coward says:

This is the only time I have ever read a story like this and disagreed with you Mike so you are doing excellent IMO. I do not think they should get much other than have the dude make the site comply to ‘moron in a hurry’ this moron had to look to closely and take too long to see a difference. I do not think they should get any damages for it. I fly a bunch, I am a 1K guy and I actually prefer United and have been treated well by them, but at the same time I think every agency, corporation, and institution deserves thorough and constant criticism which is the payoff for living in a free society it makes us all better as a result.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...