Is Twitter Grounds for Trademark Infringement?

Law.com:  “Oklahoma-based natural gas distributor Oneok filed a lawsuit in Tulsa federal court against Twitter alleging trademark infringement. The company claimed that Twitter wrongly allowed an anonymous user to post the company’s logo on a profile that was named ‘Oneok_i.’ The user also posted some information about the company, Oneok officials said.”

Social Networks and Personal Injury Suits

Times have changed.  We all know the adage “think before your speak.”  In the age of social media we now have “think before you tweet.”  Millions of people are using social media like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter to communicate.  Sometimes, information displayed online can cause the author and/or website owner to become the defendant in a lawsuit.

Employers, Employees, Social Networks & the Law

Arizona Republic:  Social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace are great ways to communicate, but the legalities are  uncertain when employers monitor or restrict what employees say about employers online.

Valley attorneys say employers have the right to monitor and restrict employees’ social networking posts related to their business, including disciplining and terminating employees for negative posts via Arizona’s employment laws. But those same lawyers also caution that pursuing restrictive social networking policies can open a Pandora’s box of public relations and legal problems, including privacy and discrimination lawsuits.

What Are You Doing Legally on Twitter?

Attorneys William Coats and Jennifer Gossain wrote an article called “What Are You Doing Legally on Twitter?” that all Twitter-ers might want to read.   Although Twitter is relatively new to the web, there have been lawsuits filed based on statements made in tweets.  Despite being limited to 140 characters, a single tweet can violate some-body’s right of publicity or defame a person or entity.

Amanda Bonnen . . .  had merely 20 followers.  But the small number of followers did not prevent this ordinary Chicago woman from being sued for $50,000 for her tweet.  This past May, Bonnen tweeted, “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you?  Horizon realty thinks it’s OK.”  Horizon Management Group took offense to Bonnen’s tweet and filed suit against her in Cook County, Ill., on July 20, 2009. Horizon alleged that Bonnen’s public tweet is libel per se and asked for damages in the amount of $50,000.  Bonnen has since closed her Twitter account.

FTC Ready to Change Long-Time Ad Rules

Online advertisers beware.  The Federal Trade Commission will soon adopt new regulations that change the long-time ad rules with the intent to prevent advertisers from making statements about products that are not true or that cannot be substantiated.  A promotional practice called “astroturfing,” which is flooding the net with product reviews that contain false statements, may soon be history.

The Federal Trade Commission is apparently on the brink of updating its 29-year-old guidelines on product endorsements.  While that threat has been looming for more than a year now, advertising lawyers say final rules are expected to be announced before the year is up.  And the FTC, lawyers warn, will be making one thing clear: Phony online reviews will not be tolerated. . . . [T]he FTC . . . may be poised to require companies to provide proof to back up any claims about a product or a service.

Enforceable Online Contracts

If you own or operate a web site in which you want to create a legally binding contract with a web site user, I recommend you read this entitled “Enforceable Browse-Wrap Contracts.”

E-commerce is increasingly automated. In the past, Internet sites used “terms of use” agreements which include an Internet mechanism to affirm consent to be bound by the agreement (click-wrap). Increasingly, browse-wrap agreements are replacing click-wrap agreements.

Enforceable browse-wrap agreements have two factors in common. First, they include sufficient notice of the terms. Second, the actions of the Internet user clearly manifest acceptance of the terms.

Yahoo Not Liable for Improper Use of Woman’s Name

Bev Stayart sued Yahoo, but a federal court dismissed her complaint.  Bev claimed that she is the only person who uses her name on the internet.  She searched for her name at yahoo.com and altavista.com and found many spam sites offering to sell Cialis (and other related drugs) or that contained explicit banner ads for adultfriendfinder.com.  Bev Stayart sued Yahoo and Overture (former owner of altavista.com, which was acquired by Yahoo)  for false endorsement under the Lanham Act and violation of privacy.

Bev’s claims were barred by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 grants interactive online services of all types, including news websites, blogs, forums, and listservs, broad immunity from certain types of legal liability stemming from content created by others.

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