by Mike Masnick
Fri, Feb 1st 2008 4:43am
From a purely academic standpoint, it really is fun to see how modern technology is making life difficult for those who rely on old and potentially obsolete laws. However, the decisions made concerning these laws may have a pretty wide impact. We've discussed in the past the pitfalls of asking fans to create "user-generated" ads, but a new lawsuit raises a very interesting legal question. If you ask people to make their own ads for your product, how do truth in advertising laws apply? It's probably not much of an issue if fans are simply going out and creating an ad for fun on their own -- but what if you encourage it? Plenty of big name brands have been setting up contests, getting people to create commercials for them. Yet, when sub shop chain Quiznos did that, competitor Subway sued them, claiming that many of the ads made exaggerated in false claims about Subway's sandwiches. Quiznos, for its part, claims that thanks to the safe harbors of the Communications Decency Act, it's not liable for the content created by the participants in the contest. Subway, on the other hand, argues that by encouraging such actions with a contest, Quiznos has overstepped the boundary, and violated its trademarks. While you can see the reasoning behind Subway's argument, it's hard not to side with Quiznos on this one. No one is going to take most of the user-generated ads seriously -- knowing that they're designed to poke fun at Subway. Also, any attempt to expand "truth in advertising" type rules to fan-created ads is going to cause all sorts of unnecessary problems. Still, when politicians were first writing up trademark laws and truth-in-advertising laws, I'd imagine the possibility of user-generated advertisements never even crossed their minds.
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