Monday, October 20, 2008

Fake networking profiles could create trademark infringement, and even school districts could file complaints


There has been a lot of discussion of phishing emails on the Internet, where spammers use the names and even trade dress of well known corporations and banks (or even ISPs) to get personal information. I’ve noted before that, among other remedies, it would sound as though corporations could claim that this is trademark infringement, because such activity obviously dilutes and tarnishes an organizations mark (even prospectively, as in the 2006 law).

I’ve also noticed occasionally that social networking and even professional networking sites are misused for this purpose. Occasionally, spammers set up accounts in the names of well known organizations to attract traffic for fraud, pornography, or other patently unlawful content and activity. The targeted organization may be a non-profit or a government entity. Last week, I found a comment (in monitoring status – I monitor all comments) on one of my other blogs which pointed to a URL that claimed to be a profile on “members.work.com” from the Muscogee County School District, which would be the area around Columbus GA and Fort Benning (which I actually visited in 1994). A school district has “customers” (parents and children) and in the broadest sense of the concept of trademark law, this would sound like an attempt to tarnish the reputation of the school district as a quasi-commercial entity doing business (by falsely suggesting that its teachers or employees are involved in “adult” commerce). If the school district learns of this, it would seem to be it could bring trademark action against whoever posted that profile. Of course, there could be other questions (libel).

Here is an example of using the law to stop obviously objectionable behavior by others. The problem is that it is hard, then, to know how to draw the line.

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