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 It's not clear why it was linking to a credit card processing service (which originally made me wonder if the comment was merely spam) or why any company would put up the details of a totally unrelated lawsuit on its own copyright page.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. identicon
    Shaun, 3 Sep 2007 @ 9:40pm

    Re: fair use

    No offense intended but what are you on? Someone could sue me for buying the last chocolate bar in the shop that they were planning on getting saying I "stole it". I obviously had every right to buy it just as they did. Obviously they would have no case but it doesn't mean I don't have to go to court to get it dismissed. My "defense" would be that it was not against the law and so obviously it should get chucked out of court.

    Just as with copying covered by Fair Use is something that isn't against the law. You could get sued for it just as for anything but that doesn't mean you didn't have the right to do it. The court would say nothing illegal was done so you had every right to do it. The law being on your side allows you to "keep from loosing"

    Saying that it is only a defence is stupid. It is not your defence. Your defence is that you only did what you had the right to do. Fair Use just specifies those rights.

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