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...


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Mason Wheeler (profile), Nov 30th, 2012 @ 4:28pm

    Looks legitimate to me

    That really does look a lot like United's actual page. My brother's a musician, and I don't have too much sympathy for airlines that break guitars, but looking at it objectively I'd say this is a pretty valid trademark claim.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2012 @ 4:37pm

      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.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2012 @ 8:48pm

        Re: Re: Looks legitimate to me

        Well, people are posting their complaints with ticket numbers and contact information, so... yeah, I think there's a good bit of confusion going on.

         

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      Dave Xanatos, Nov 30th, 2012 @ 8:08pm

      Re: Looks legitimate to me

      looking at it objectively I'd say this is a pretty valid trademark claim.

      If untied.com takes advantage of the confusion and starts their own airline, I'd say you are right. Until then, I won't.

       

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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    out_of_the_blue, Nov 30th, 2012 @ 4:38pm

    Meanwhile, off topic but a thousand times more important:

    http://rt.com/news/assange-internet-control-totalitarian-943/

    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!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect
    He innovated the term all by himself! He alone! It's HIS!

     

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      Gwiz (profile), Nov 30th, 2012 @ 5:01pm

      Re: Meanwhile, off topic but a thousand times more important:

      I finally figured out where I know you from Blue.

      You're that asshole in the grocery store bitching that the free toothpick samples aren't hot enough.

       

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        Milton Freewater, Nov 30th, 2012 @ 6:36pm

        Re: Re: Meanwhile, off topic but a thousand times more important:

        "You're that asshole in the grocery store bitching that the free toothpick samples aren't hot enough."

        No, he's the asshole trying to get people who take the free samples arrested for shoplifting.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2012 @ 5:24pm

      Re: Meanwhile, off topic but a thousand times more important:

      Thanks Blue! So how about you post your stupid arguments over there? What's that you say? You're not paid to make lame attempts to debunk Drudge Report? Ah, now I understand.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2012 @ 5:25pm

      Re: Meanwhile, off topic but a thousand times more important:

      Drudge Report?
      Are you serious? That pos rag is worthless drool.

       

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      Michael, Dec 1st, 2012 @ 8:21am

      Re: Meanwhile, off topic but a thousand times more important:

      lol! Drudge report?

       

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    Milton Freewater, Nov 30th, 2012 @ 4:46pm

    The new Untied design may not be infringing, but ....

    ... it looks enough like an airline site in general that it's distracting to someone (like me) who just goes over there to read horror stories.

     

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    PlagueSD (profile), Nov 30th, 2012 @ 4:46pm

    Since most websites are designed using templates now instead of manual coding, I can see how this could happen.

    It'll be interesting to see how the Streisand Effect plays out here.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2012 @ 4:48pm

    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.

     

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    jcooperstock (profile), Nov 30th, 2012 @ 5:53pm

    outdated screen shot

    The screenshot from my site as shown here appears to be several months old. I'm wondering what is meant by "as it looked recently" since it hasn't looked like that in quite a while.

    Thanks,
    - Jeremy

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2012 @ 9:53am

      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?

       

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      Brendan (profile), Dec 2nd, 2012 @ 10:09am

      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?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2012 @ 5:59pm

    Well to be fair it really does seem like a lot of the people complaining there actually DO (or at least did, before the changes) think they're complaining to United.

    Some even point out that United have misspelt "United" on the website! :-P

     

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      Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Nov 30th, 2012 @ 9:57pm

      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.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2012 @ 4:02am

        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.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2012 @ 12:32pm

      Re:

      Maybe the dyslexics of the world have finally...uh...gotten together.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2012 @ 7:14pm

    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) ...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2012 @ 12:17pm

    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.

     

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    Bonnie Russell, Dec 3rd, 2012 @ 9:00pm

    Poor Internet sports and bad legal advice

    The site www.familylawcourts.com has been sued four times, largely for their "Do Not Hire page."

    Won every one. Losers had to pay attorney fees. For other yummy Internet stuff see me @Rockmedia. But for aviation stuff, see Gerald Sterns. On Tumblr. Or at www.trial-law.com

     

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