Dec. 10, 2010
Court Upholds Website Criticizing Company Founded by Leader of Tiananmen Square Protests
Court Backs Public Citizen, Decides That Use of Trademarked Name in Website’s Meta Tags Does Not Constitute Infringement
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Including a company’s trademarked name in the meta tags of a website does not violate trademark rules, a Massachusetts superior court judge ruled this week.
An award-winning documentary company Long Bow Group made a film about the historic 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in China, which featured Ling Chai, a student leader in the protests. Chai now runs the company Jenzabar Inc., which makes software for colleges and universities, and didn’t like the way she was portrayed in Long Bow’s film, so she sued over the website about the film, making several claims.
After her claims of defamation fell flat, Chai proceeded with claims of trademark infringement and dilution – based on Long Bow’s use of the name “Jenzabar” among the meta tags on pages about that firm on the film’s website. Both claims failed this week in Boston’s Suffolk County Superior Court when Judge John Cratsley ruled that Long Bow’s inclusion of the software company’s name in its meta tags was protected as fair use.
“Meta tags are noncommercial speech that truthfully describe a subject of the Web page and should be protected by the First Amendment,” argued Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney defending Long Bow. “Furthermore, the use of Jenzabar’s name does not constitute a trademark violation and the entire lawsuit was frivolous. The court came down on the right side of free speech.”
Jenzabar failed to meet the criteria for a trademark suit, Cratsley ruled. The company had no evidence that the use of its name on Long Bow’s website confused visitors about the site’s sponsors. Even if some users came to the website from a search engine, expecting to get to Jenzabar’s own website, such transitory confusion is not enough to make out a claim under the trademark laws. Additionally, at the top of the Web page where Long Bow discussed Jenzabar, the documentary makers posted a disclaimer clarifying that it had nothing to do with the software company.
Long Bow’s main Web page about Jenzabar, which has contained the meta tags at issue in the case since 1999, is http://www.tsquare.tv/film/jenzabar.html.
Long Bow’s local counsel, who handled the case until Public Citizen stepped in last fall, are Chris Donnelly and Adam Ziegler of Donnelly, Conroy & Gelhaar in Boston.
To read more about this case, visit: https://www.citizen.org/litigation/forms/cases/getlinkforcase.cfm?cID=575. !!!
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.