A Lesson In Copyright: It Does Not Give You Total Control

from the in-case-you-were-wondering dept

A few weeks ago, we wrote about American Airlines was suing Google for trademark infringement due to keyword ads on Google using the phrase "American Airlines" that pointed visitors to competing airline sites or sites that sold American Airlines tickets alongside those of competitors. The history of similar cases suggests that American Airlines is going to have a tough time making its case. First of all, it's not illegal to use the trademarked name of another company in an advertisement as long as there's no indication that the ad is for them (in other words there's no customer confusion). Second, if there is confusion in the ad, then the problem isn't between American Airlines and Google, but American Airlines and the advertiser.

It's not clear why, but a week and a half after this story appeared, someone dropped by to add a comment to the story insisting that American Airlines is in the right here, though they don't give any support reasons why. What was odd, though, was that the comment linked to the copyright page of the website of a credit card processing service, saying that you could download the PDF of AA's filings there. That seemed especially strange. It's not clear why it was linking to a credit card processing service (which originally made me wonder if the comment was merely spam) or why any company would put up the details of a totally unrelated lawsuit on its own copyright page. The lawsuit isn't even about copyright, but trademark. However, what struck me is that the copyright page itself is wrong. It claims:
"No portions of this website may be reproduced or copied without the express written permission of the owner."
And then goes on to selectively highlight or quote certain parts of copyright law. Of course, this is wrong. As I did above, you can absolutely reproduce or copy portions of this company's website without the express written permission of the owner. It's called fair use, and while many copyright holders want to pretend it doesn't exist -- it absolutely does. Quoting a small portion of a website, especially for the purpose of, say, educating people about fair use, is fair use at work. Of course, this reminds me of when law professor Wendy Seltzer got a DMCA notice for trying to point out that the NFL misapplies copyright law in its own copyright statements that make a similar claim as the site above does.

Filed Under: copyright, copyright abuse
Companies: merchant card service


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  1. icon
    John (profile), 31 Aug 2007 @ 2:01pm

    I say let them have their copyrights

    What would happen if every company owned its copyrights and no other company could mention them?

    A Google search for American Airlines would give you results like this:
    "No results were returned for those words. We would point you to that company's website, but mentioning their website is against their copyright rules. May we suggest TWA or United or Frontier or AirTran for your flying needs."

    Listening to a baseball game would go something like this:
    "And the player swings a something and hits the spherical object. The spherical object flies somewhere, but I can't use the names due to copyrights. Some other player catches it! But I can't tell you the player's name or number because of copyrights. He throws the spherical object somewhere, but I can't say where because of copyrights. Some other player catches it. Boy, was that exciting. He'll certainly be proud of that catch. That's one for the record books!"

    So, let these companies have their copyrights and see how long it takes until people either get confused by how the media can't use the actual names or until people just get so mad at the company's attempt to control everything.

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