Friday, July 13, 2007

Who are You?

Imagine clicking on a search result believing you were going to a Waterstones to find yourself at Borders, or thinking you were going to Wordsworth Editions and found yourself at Penguin Classics. I bet the feathers would soon be flying along with ‘passing off’ legal letters. Passing Off yourself as someone else is a legal offence but like many legal issues on the internet the water can get murky. Remember the days when enterprising folk bought up URLs containing brand names in the hope of selling them on the the brand owner.

Today the Times covers a story about The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), a consumer watchdog who is taking legal action against Google over the way it sells and displays its sponsored links.

In 2005, an Australian classified ads magazine Trading Post, took out sponsored links in the name of two car dealerships from Newcastle, New South Wales. People clicking on the names of the dealerships found themselves on Trading Post’s website. The ACCC dropped a case against Trading Post when the publication said it would stop using its competitors’ names in Google sponsored links. However, the ACCC now claims that Google “engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct” by allowing Trading Post to buy ads in the name of the car dealerships and also that the way Google displays its links is misleading in that it fails to adequately distinguish sponsored links from ‘organic’ search results.

Google Australia described the lawsuit as “an attack on all search engines”
The article quotes that Google has faced a many lawsuits from companies alleging that rivals have bought sponsored links triggered by their trademarked words or phrases. Google has won some cases and lost others. One would dismiss this as maybe a small and insignificant lawsuit until one thinks about the issue a little closer and in the context of initiatives such as Booksearch.