800 Lbs Gorilla

It is being reported that Google lost a trademark case in France:

A French court on Friday ruled against Google in a trademark infringement case brought by Louis Vuitton Malletier, in the latest legal setback to the search giant overseas.

The Paris District Court has sanctioned Google and its French subsidiary from selling search-related advertisements against trademarks owned by the luxury fashion designer, which sued the search giant in early 2004. The court charged Google with trademark counterfeiting, unfair competition and misleading advertising. Google was ordered to pay $257,430 (200,000 euros).

I think it is time for the notion of the extra-national corporation. If I was the CEO of Google, this is where I would make my stand. Give the frogs two fingers up and a raspberry, and tell them to collect that judgment from their ass. Liquidate that French subsidiary and then tell all the French businesses that want to buy from Google that they can do it from the American parent.

What is France going to do about it? Prevent them from running servers in France? Fine. Run the servers from wherever. Are they going to try to “ban” Google from the internet in France? Fat chance — the internet senses censorship as an error and routes around it. The only way this judgment is enforceable is with the consent of Google, and if I was Google, there is no way in hell I would cooperate. If France decided to do anything to try to collect it, they would be cutting off their nose to spite their face.

14 Comments

  1. Eric says:

    How would your position in this matter change if it is understood that Google has, indeed, done something wrong?

    Or are you assuming that because it came from a French court, the decision can’t be just?

    And are you really suggesting that a corporation so large and powerful that it is no longer subject to any nation’s laws is a “good thing”?

    Just curious…

  2. Phelp says:

    As I understand the case, the issue is that Google linking ads to keywords that are a trademark of someone else “damages” the trademark. In that instance, I don’t think they have done anything wrong.

    However, setting that aside, the issue is more the internet than it is corporations. France is trying to impose French law on the internet, which is in essence attempting to impose French law worldwide. Other companies have run into the same problem (i.e. Ebay and Nazi memorabilia) and should have been given that response before. US law shouldn’t be imposed on the internet willy-nilly, and neither should French law. Law should be imposed on the internet by the consent of those on the internet, and I think you would have a hard time getting that consent for this case.

  3. Eric says:

    I agree that no single country’s law should be imposed on the net, but I really think you need to find a better poster child for this than the Google case. I have a hard time seeing how Google is NOT responsible for helping to violate someone else’s property ownership rights, which is surely a right that should transcend any national (or virtual) boundaries.

  4. Phelp says:

    I don’t believe that information can be held as a property right by natural law. That is why copyright had to be written into our US Constitution — it isn’t a natural right, but a created one. Information wants to be free, and as long as we keep trying to chain it down, we are fighting the flow. It is time to accept that information is not something that can be locked up in a vault and rented out, and start treating it with pragmatism.

  5. Eric says:

    Personal identity (even if it’s that of a corporation) is simply “information that wants to be free”?!

    OK…even if I grant you that a corporation or company’s name isn’t a “natural right” (whatever that means), how many countries in the world haven’t drafted laws to protect it as a “created one”? I suspect that only those which we refer to as “third world” either don’t have such laws or routinely ignore them, a not insignificant reason why they will likely continue to have that status.

    Again, I’m not arguing the validity of your original premise…I just think this case is a really bad example in support of it.

  6. Phelps says:

    No, I think it is a good one — no one is denying that impersonating another company (misleadingly similar marks, or direct impersonation) are a violation — that’s fraud. What we are talking about here is complete control of how the words that happen to be trademarked are used. It isn’t like I should be able to trademark “Everlasting Phelps” and then if someone I don’t like critcizes me in a post, I should be able to scream “trademark infringement!” and make them take it down. Reading directly on this case, I can’t bitch if Frank J (for example) puts up a link that says “Fireant Gazette — Texasier than Phelps!”

  7. mexigogue says:

    Goddamit I knew Texasier was a word!! My ex challenged it and made me take it down. I even had the ‘x’ on a triple letter score!

    Back on point I’m not a fan of intellectual property rights. If you quote me just make sure to list your source. And I don’t like the concept of some website owner saying “Hey Mexigogue, that picture of the bound and gagged chick hanging upside down in a dungeon is MY intellectual property! You can’t have that as your wallpaper!”

  8. Phelps says:

    Indeonapolis Star:

    The high court in Paris awarded the damages in a decision Friday and ordered Google to stop displaying advertisements for Vuitton’s rivals whenever Internet users type Vuitton’s name or other trademarks into the search engine.

    The court ruled that Google was guilty of false publicity and counterfeiting, upholding complaints by Vuitton that Internet users searching for the Paris-based maker of luxury bags, accessories and apparel also were shown ads for companies selling forgeries.

    London Free Press:

    The high court in central Paris awarded the damages in a decision late Friday and ordered Google to stop displaying advertisements for Vuitton’s rivals whenever Internet users typed Vuitton’s name or other trademarks into the search engine.

    Google did not “sell the name” of anyone. What they sold were ads that come up in the sidebar when someone posts a query about that name. The google ranks were not in question; Louis Vuitton’s official site was the #1 link. No one was impersonating LV; the issue was that LV was pissed that someone else was allowed to write the name. That is unreasonable.

    At best you can say that google aided and abeted the forgeries (by selling them ads), but I don’t buy that, and given the other coverage, I have serious doubts about that. I have no doubt that google does not “vet” the ads that they sell, and I do not think that they have a duty to do so.

  9. Eric says:

    Sorry for the delay in replying…I couldn’t get your site to come up for a while (figured someone — probably Frank J — hijacked your domain ;-).

    I’m not backing down on this one, though, based on my understanding of the specific facts of the case you cite. Google sold the name “Louis Vuitton” to someone other than Louis Vuitton so that the buyer could use it in his Google ads. In doing so, Louis Vuitton lost access to its own name for that purpose.

    If I’ve misunderstood the facts of the case, please educate me, but this seems to be almost a case of identity theft, with Google facilitating and profiting from it. If that’s not a violation of a fundamental property ownership right (the right to one’s own name), I’m not sure what is. But, then, perhaps you’re saying that no such rights exist, nor should they. That’s not a world I contemplate with delight.

  10. Phelps says:

    Heh. I spelled Indianapolis wrong.

  11. Eric says:

    …stop displaying advertisements for Vuitton’s rivals whenever Internet users typed Vuitton’s name…

    And the only way this happens is that those “rivals” purchased the use of Vuitton’s name from Google.

    Google’s responsibility to vet ads is limited (and I think its described in their terms of use), and that’s not my quibble. It does have a responsibility not to sell the right to use trademarks to non-trademark owners. It’s not a matter of simply “writing” the name. It’s the fact that once Google sold the right to use that name for purposes of Google’s ads, Vuitton itself no longer had access to its own name for the same ad. How is that fair or legal?

    Maybe I just don’t understand the GoogleAd process…

    Oh well; it’s an interesting discussion, even if we have to agree to disagree. 😉

  12. Phelps says:

    I think that misunderstanding google ads may be the problem. When you buy a google ad, you can specify when you want your ad to come up (or you can let the google bot figure it out.) You could buy a Fireant Gazette ad, and tell google that you want it displayed when “Instapundit” or “Phelps” appear in a search string.

    Vuitton claimed that if google displayed someone else’s ad when they searched for “Vuitton” (regardless of what comes up in the regular search) then that is a violation of thier copyright. And the legal term for that reasoning is “bullshit”.

  13. Eric says:

    Vuitton claimed that if google displayed someone else’s ad when they searched for “Vuitton”…

    Well, I’m sure you’re tired of this thread, but I’m confused about how the exact mechanism by which someone else’s ad would come up if I searched for “Louis Vuitton.” Wouldn’t that advertiser have had to “buy” that search term from Google…or at least been one of the high bidders for it?

    Of course, in the end it’s a pretty silly lawsuit anyway, in that it appears that Vuitton could succeed in causing its dealers to sell fewer of its products.

    I forget. What was the original question? 😉

  14. Phelps says:

    Well, I’m sure you’re tired of this thread, but I’m confused about how the exact mechanism by which someone else’s ad would come up if I searched for “Louis Vuitton.” Wouldn’t that advertiser have had to “buy” that search term from Google…or at least been one of the high bidders for it?

    That’s it exactly. But google is not selling the word, they are selling the response. This is like saying that if you go to Taco Bell and ask for a Coke, they aren’t allowed to say, “would you rather have a Pepsi?”