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Trademark Laws - Case Study Example

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In Brookfield Communications v. West Coast Entertainment, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals addressed whether trademarks could be used as metatags. The court concluded that the exact use of a trademark as a metatag was unlawful. In the instant case, the trademark was MovieBuff, owned by Brookfield, and it was duly registered with the relevant authorities…
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Trademark Laws
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Using Trademarks as Metatags Case and Holding In Brookfield Communications v. West Coast Entertainment, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals addressed whether trademarks could be used as metatags. The court concluded that the exact use of a trademark as a metatag was unlawful. In the instant case, the trademark was MovieBuff, owned by Brookfield, and it was duly registered with the relevant authorities. West Coast used precisely the same language as a metatag.
The court applied eight factors, known as the Sleekcraft factors, in order to determine whether the public was likely to be confused. In its analysis, and crucial to its ultimate holding, the court discussed the "initial interest confusion" concept; in effect, they held that the use of a trademark in html code or a metatag would result in the person searching the internet being confused about the true source or sponsorship of the sites returned. Given this initial interest confusion, an actionable theory, the court found that the public was likely to be confused to some extent and this was enough for the court to further find that trademarks could not be used as metatags.
The ruling, however, was rather specific or limited. The facts of this case provided that the MovieBuff trademark owned by Brookfield could not be used as a metatag; however, the court mentioned several variations that would not be unlawful. First, the court noted that simply putting a space between the movie and the buff would be a lawful metatag; this would be a nearly identical use of language and protect West Coast from lawsuits. Second, the court stated that trademarks can be used descriptively in metatags and on web pages. The trademark, for instance, could be used to make comparisons or to draw contrasts. Thus, in short, the ruling was very specific in that it found the exact use of a trademark in a metatag to be unlawful while at the same time articulating a few safe harbors.
The court's reasoning seems sound and persuasive. There is no reason for trademark law to operate differently in the electronic environment than in the print environment. If the laws are to achieve their ultimate objectives then trademark law ought to be applied uniformly in both the electronic and print contexts; to relax the standards regarding the internet generally, and metatags more specifically, would provide an incentive for individuals or businesses to intentionally mislead people. The victims would be those whom have their trademarks appropriated and those whom are mislead on the internet. In addition, the court's reasoning seems sound given the narrow scope of its holding. There was no expansive interpretation of the relevant trademark and unfair competition laws; quite the contrary, the court limited its holding to a very specific situation while at the same time setting forth situations that would be perfectly fine.
In the final analysis, the 9th circuit's holding protected the integrity of the trademark laws in the internet context, it prevented potential abuse through metatags, and it explained how individuals and businesses could comply with trademark law when creating metatags.
Works Cited
Brookfield Communications v. West Coast Entertainment. 174 F. 3d 1036 (9th Cir.
1999). Read More
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