August 29, 2011
Bev Stayart Racks Up Two More Losses--Stayart v. Yahoo and Stayart v. Google
By Eric Goldman
Persistence is a virtue, but sometimes, enough is enough. You probably remember Bev Stayart as the woman who was upset that sploggers had built pages associating her name with the drug Levitra. In a litigation campaign now spanning 2 1/2 years, she has sued both Google and Yahoo for showing these splogged results. Her lawsuits have gotten zero traction. See the end of this post for my prior blog posts on her futile campaign.
The most recent rulings address her motions to reconsider the dismissal of her publicity rights claims, as well a dismissal in the Yahoo case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and a motion in the Google case for attorneys' fees. Stayart avoids paying Google's fees--which I would have enthusiastically awarded against her if I had been judge--so I guess she might call that a win. She loses everything else.
The court rejects Stayart's publicity rights claim under Wisconsin's statute. It says that Stayart must establish a substantial connection between her name and advertising, not a de minimis or incidental connection. She didn't do that; her allegations only suggest that "defendant reported the results of its search of other websites." The court wraps up this point by saying:
Because it is not a misappropriation to use a person’s name primarily for the purpose of communicating information, displaying these search suggestions does not provide a basis for plaintiff’s claims.
The court doesn't cite the Habush v. Cannon ruling (also interpreting Wisconsin publicity rights law, although that case involved ads), but I think its ruling is philosophically in sync with that case.
In the Google case, Stayart pointed out that a keyword search for "bev stayart levitra" triggered ads for Levitra. The court, without using the phrase "broad matching," concludes that the logical conclusion is that the ads are based on broad-matching to Levitra. The court's discussion isn't so definitive that this language will be followed as precedent, but the court's reasoning would help defendants in keyword advertising lawsuits where broad matching is involved as well.
In the Yahoo case, the court dismisses subject matter jurisdiction because she didn't clear the $75,000 threshold. She tries to count the possibility of punitive damages towards the $75,000, but noting the Gore case, the court says:
Even assuming that punitive damages were available, such damages would necessarily be limited given the de minimis nature of the compensatory damages alleged.
The court couches the discussion in fairly turgid legal prose, but the message is clear: Bev Stayart's claims substantially overread the law, and she hasn't suffered any damage the court is going to recognize. Most plaintiffs would get the hint and cut their losses.
Among other consequences of her litigation campaign, Bev Stayart's litigation campaign has irrevocably changed the search results on her name. Instead of associating her with sexual dysfunction drugs, her search results forevermore will be associated with unmeritorious litigation. Thus, I still fail to understand why these lawsuits aren't fundamentally counterproductive to her apparent goal of improving her online reputation.
Prior blog posts:
* Google Not Liable for Suggested Vanity Searches--Stayart v. Google
* Seventh Circuit Tosses Beverly Stayart's False Endorsement Claims--Stayart v. Yahoo
* Beverly Stayart Strikes Again! This Time, Stayart Sues Google
* Yahoo's Search Results Snippets Aren't False Endorsement--Stayart v. Yahoo
* Yahoo/Overture Sued for Search Results Snippets Containing Plaintiff's Name--Stayart v. Yahoo
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