February 25, 2024

Archives for April 2004

Trademarks and Ad Placement

Dana Blankenhorn at Moore’s Lore has some interesting discussion of the lawsuit between American Blinds and Google.

Here’s the background: When you do a Google search, the results page gives the search results on the left side of the page, and a few ads (marked as such) on the right edge of the page. The ads are chosen based on the words in your search; advertisers buy placement for particular search words. For example, a pizza restaurant in Princeton might buy placement on searches for “princeton pizza”.

American Blinds makes window blinds. If you search for “American Blinds” on Google, you will see (or at least, you would have seen before the lawsuit) ads for some of American Blinds’ competitors. American Blinds claims that this is a trademark violation, since Google is associating competing products with the trademarked name “American Blinds”. American Blinds says that Google may not sell competing ads keyed to the trademarked name, without the trademark owner’s permission.

Most people’s initial reaction is that American Blinds’ lawsuit is ridiculous and should stand no chance of succeeding. But Google already lost a similar lawsuit in France, and it already lets Dell do what American Blinds wants to do.

To give every trademark holder veto power over the placement of clearly marked ads on search pages seems like bad policy, whatever the law says. (If the ad-laden page were trying to mislead customers about who is connected to the trademark, I would feel differently; but that’s not the case here.) Creating so many vetoes would seriously cramp the ability of Google, or anybody else, to sell keyword-triggered ads, especially given how crowded the namespace has gotten.

Consider a hypothetical hungry traveler who searches for “princeton pizza,” wanting to survey his dinner options. If there’s a restaurant called “Princeton Pizza,” and it has a veto over ad placement on that phrase, the traveler will be frustrated. And it’s hard to see what other search the traveler could do to circumvent the trademark issue and get a list of pizza places in Princeton.

Perhaps Google could provide an “I mean the words I wrote, not the trademark” option, so that a search for “princeton pizza –notrademark” would display ads triggered by the words, ignoring any trademark vetoes. But it’s hard to believe that that would satisfy American Blinds or other trademark owners.

Another attempted solution is to say that a trademark owner should get a veto if the only reason consumers would search on the name is when looking for the trademarked item, but that there should be no veto if a consumer might plausibly search for the trademarked phrase for other reasons. That’s a useful distinction in theory, but such a test seems too tricky to apply in practice.

I can’t think of a good way to accomodate the trademark owners’ legitimate interests, without essentially shutting down word-based ad placement services. And in the absence of such a solution, it seems to me better to let the ad placements go on.

New, Unauthorized Sloganator

I wrote previously about how the remix culture will affect political discourse.
A great example is the new, unauthorized version of the Bush/Cheney “Sloganator”. The original, you may recall, was on the Bush/Cheney website. It allowed you to make a campaign poster with the candidates’ names and (almost) any slogan you liked. After much hilarity at the campaign’s expense, mainly in the form of parody signs with disparaging slogans, the Sloganator was retired.

Now it has been resurrected, appearing in a new, apparently unauthorized, version at http://www.bushsloganator.com. In the remix culture, it’s hard to undo your mistakes, because other people will just copy them.

[link credit: Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing]

U.S. Drops Ban on Editing Some Foreign Papers

The New York Times reports that the U.S. government has dropped it objection to U.S. people copy-editing scientific papers whose authors come from countries that are under U.S. trade embargoes. Previously, the government had interpreted such copy-editing as a violation of the trade embargoes, an offense punishable by up to ten years in prison. Though nobody had been prosecuted for copy-editing, the harsh penalty had a significant chilling effect. The policy change comes in a letter from the Treasury Department to the IEEE.

The IEEE, in a much-criticized policy, had previously shunned papers from embargoed countries, most notably Iran.

NYT on Oberholzer/Strumpf Filesharing Study

Today’s New York Times has a great story by John Schwartz on last week’s filesharing study and the reaction to it. There’s a nice summary of the study itself, and some discussion and criticism of it.

The criticism seems to fall into two categories. One category is the appropriate scholarly caution toward a new result that hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet. Although economists who have seen the study say its methodology looks reasonable, there may be other unknown factors yet to be discovered that will cast doubt on the study. The other category of criticism comes from people who don’t criticize the study’s methdology but just point to other types of studies that give different results.

The article notes that these other studies haven’t been peer-reviewed either, and that some of their sponsors have agendas. Anybody who has been around for a while knows to be very skeptical of certain kinds of studies done by certain kinds of consulting firms.

More on the UNC/Harvard Filesharing Study

Eric Rescorla offers two interesting posts on the recently released study on filesharing. First, Eric summarizes the study’s methodology. Then he discusses the implications if the study turns out to be correct that filesharing does not reduce sales.