The Ghost of Snapped Shot

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The Moving Target that is Move On

Michelle Malkin has raised the Evil Google! alarm again over some advertisements which were rejected by the AdSense/AdWords department for "trademark" infringement.

Now, I'm not a lawyer, and I don't play one on television, but I don't think that Google is at fault here: The ads in question actually contain a trademarked phrase ("MoveOn.org"), which is generally only allowed when the surrounding context is obviously a satirical work. I don't know about you, but "Help Susan Collins stand up to the MoveOn.org money machine." doesn't sound all that "satirical" to me, and it definitely contains the explicit trademark. See the USPTO listing for yourself if you don't believe me. (From my understanding of Trademark law, which is admittedly lacking, a "Character mark" does not necessarily have to be in a particular style or font to be violated. It is the mere description of the text itself which is being trademarked. See here for discussion related to this concept.)

Is Google being "evil," contrary to their corporate policy?

I doubt it. More likely, MoveOn is judiciously defending their trademarks, and Google is merely responding to their actions. I can't really say that I find fault with that.

Rather than complain about Google taking action in response to a complaint, how about we conservatives concentrate more on bringing the battle back to the libtards? Any time one of our trademarks (we do register those too, right?) are violated, we should immediately fire off a letter to the offending parties.

And how about we come up with some biting satire which doesn't break trademark law, but is sarcastic enough to drive our points home?

Help Susan Collins tell MoveOn to Move On—to Canada. The nation will be a better place.

Update: I've got preliminary word that confirms my suspicions:—Google yanked the ad due to a complaint that was filed by MoveOn.org themselves. Poor little babies can't handle a little bit of criticism, can they?

Here you go: This is how my contact over at Google described this incident:

Ok, I figured out what his account is (it was a pain, the email address he posted is not the one he logs in with), and looked at the ads. As far as I can tell, they passed the automated system checks and got approved, which is why they appeared at first. They are currently marked disapproved due to a trademark violation. I can't find where the history is stored for this, so I don't know who or when marked them disapproved. [As far as I can tell], it was mostly likely due to a complaint from the trademark owner. MoveOn probably has people or scripts constantly doing searches and looking for trademark violations of their name, and then they file complaints. The URL for a trademark owner to file a complaint:

http://adwords.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=50006

I don't know the exact details of how the automated approvals work, but I can see where it would be very hard to automatically find ads that violate trademarks, since we can't possibly know whether the person who placed the ad has the right to use that trademark in most cases. Like ads that Dell places probably mention Microsoft in some of them - no automated system could figure out whether this is ok or not, unless Microsoft complained.

So it's not Google being evil and pulling the ads critical of MoveOn just because - it's most likely MoveOn filing a complaint about it, and Google having to comply by law. I imagine that if Blackwater filed a complaint against that ad that was critical of it, that ad would get pulled too. What I would suggest is to just remove the name MoveOn from the ads and replace it with some non-trademarked term, like "morons" or something :)

Also, suggest that as people find ads they don't like that also happen to violate trademarks, these people should contact the trademark owner ask them to file a complaint. Like somebody should tell Blackwater to file a complaint against that ad critical of it.


It would appear that we have our work cut out for us: If we want to fight MoveOn by the same tactics they use, then we have to be prepared to file the same types of complaints against these unaccountable Leftist groups as they file against us. After all, turnabout is fair play, especially in the low arts of politics!

See-Also:

LGF, Hyscience, The American Pundit, Sweetness & Light, Instapundit, Riehl World View

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Comments:

#1 MikeTheLibrarian 11-Oct-2007
So then they should take down any ads that mention Wal-Mart, PETA, or any other registered named company? Thats kind of a dangerous precedent.
#2 Brian C. Ledbetter 11-Oct-2007
Mike,

That's a compelling argument, but it is still my understanding that trademark law is largely self-policed. I.e., Wal-Mart may have made a corporate decision that it would cost too much money to try and track down all of the abuse of their trademark, rather than fight each and every incident they encounter.

(Or perhaps they subscribe to the notion that "any publicity is good publicity"—a lesson which our more fragile-egoed friends on the Left still have yet to learn.)

I'll have updates on this shortly, so please stay tuned!

Regards,
Brian
#3 Waitress Polly 11-Oct-2007
You should read the LA Times Jon Healy's take on when MoveOn presented the "trademark infringement" to CafePress, forcing shopkeepers to take down their anti-moveon shirts.

Protest is covered under the first amendment, under the right to "peaceably assemble." Following hand in hand with this would be parody, which the courts have consistently ruled in favor of. In fact, our revolution as a nation included plenty of parodies of King George.

In terms of the Collins ad, it wasn't a parody, but a protest against the treatment of one group by another. It still holds up.

However, to Google, maybe it's not about upholding the first amendment, it's about how much RISK do they want to incur, going against MoveOn. So in essence, it could be construed as a business decision.

It seems like MoveOn continues to shoot themselves in the foot. Ever since this happened at CafePress, there has been an onslaught of "peaceful protests" in the form of people posting anti-moveon parody shirts. MoveOn, obviously has backed down since their initial wrongful claim.

In addition, there is also a fund raiser going on for the National Military Family Association, as a result at one of the original shirts at the PoliStewCafe. Sometimes fighting them back with wit is another way to win.
#4 waitress polly 11-Oct-2007
P.S. All of these companies have their origins in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I can only imagine a cartoon with Waltonesque overtones: "Good Night, Google, Good Night MoveOn. And don't worry about the first amendment, we're a business, not the public trough."
#5 Robert Cox 12-Oct-2007
There are two aspects to trademark law that MoveOn could cite here - infringement and/or disparagement. Neither of them apply.

Collins is not attempting to confuse MoveOn with her campaign; there is NO right of a trademark holder to be free from "disparagement".

Since neither apply (this is not opinion but a matter of law) it raises the question then what IS the reason?

MoveOn filed a complaint and Google blindly accepted that complaint without considering the validity of the complaint. Thus, there is not a legal issue here but rather a flawed policy at Google which allows trademark holders to assert false trademark claims without scrutiny as a way to suppress speech they do not like.

Google is a private company and they are free to discriminate against advertisers as they see fit. They are also, by far, the dominant player in online advertising. They have gotten so big that there are now public interest concerns at stake and therefore it is reasonable to raise questions challenging what are flawed corporate policies.

As for MoveOn, under Google policy they had the ability to file the claim and have it acted upon. That does not change the fact they filed their claim in order to suppress speech with which they disagreed. They could have chosen NOT to file a claim without damaging their control over their own copyright.
#6 Brian C. Ledbetter 12-Oct-2007
Robert,

Thanks for stopping by to share that! It is still my understanding (Disclaimer: Still not a lawyer) of trademark law that a vast majority of the "enforcement" of violations is due to self-policing, for instance the action taken by MoveOn or their council against the ads in question.

I certainly blame MoveOn for being a pathetic collection of thin-skinned [i]nothings[/i] who are totally unable to handle even the [i]slightest[/i] of criticisms. But Google acting on their claims (due to corporate policy) doesn't imply that Google is somehow "censoring" conservative viewpoints.

After all, if it is Google's intent to minimize legal risk, wouldn't you agree that a policy that acts on trademark violations as soon as complaints are received is a valid way to do so?

I understand you've spoken with a handful of trademark experts on this matter: Have you asked them to compare this type of violation complaint with the general industry-wide move for advertisers to shun mentioning any of their competitors in their ads? See my example above involving Bounty vs. Brawny, for instance. I'd _love_ to hear some background on how that type of self-censorship relates to our current incident with Google.

:)

Oh, and I [i]still[/i] don't think Google is to blame for this mess.

Regards,
Brian
#7 captainfish 12-Oct-2007
Then how can tv ads get away with citing another brand name in their ads to say that they are better than those competitors?

I thought it was only allowed if a footnote is presented describing the other brand ..."is an official trademark of ***##* and is not associated in anyway with brandA)

Easy way to solve this though, is to change the move0n.org around to not be a trademark but easily recognizable by the public. .... such as move-0n_dot_0org.
#8 clayton 15-Oct-2007
Hey, don't advocate trying to send these assholes to Canada. My country is full of a bunch of terror supporting socialist fucks already, the last thing we need is more.
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