SEO News

Search Engines And Legal Issues

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As search engines have grown as an industry, a number of lawsuits and legal issues have arisen in relation to them. The articles below have been organized by type of dispute. You can jump straight to a particular section using the links below. Two types of dispute categories, involving meta tags and multimedia content, are described on separate pages. Links for those categories, in italics, will take you to their pages. I've also been involved in some of these cases. A disclosure statement is at the bottom of the page.

General - Advertising & Listings - Crawling & Linking - Domain Names
Government Regulation - Labor - Meta Tags
Meta Search - Multimedia Search - Pagejacking - Patents
Privacy & User Information - Trademarks


Feds slap cuffs on Google stock scammer
The Register, March 12, 2004

Google hasn't announced IPO plans, but that didn't stop someone from allegedly selling "friends and family" stock options in Google. The man claimed to have such options to sell and made over $500,000 before being arrested by the FBI.

Google Abuses Search Leadership
FTPOnline, Dec. 15, 2003

This open letter to the US Federal Trade Commission about alleged restraint of trade by Google actually has little to do with any type of search "monopoly." Instead, it mainly focuses on Google's oft-criticized (and deservedly so) changes imposed on those carrying its contextual ads. Publishers are forced to agree to new terms in order to get paid for ads run before the terms were altered. It also complains that the pop-up blocker in the Google Toolbar potentially restrains advertising, though the letter fails to explicitly suggest Google has done this to sell its own search and contextual-based ad products.

Why Google should stop being so 'evil'
The Guardian, Oct. 20, 2003,7496,1066536,00.html

More on the recent move by Google to amend its AdSense terms and conditions. Apparently, those who were tossed out of the program couldn't log in to check on the money they were owed unless they agreed to new terms preventing them from criticizing the program, a dumb policy for Google to try and impose.

Google shafts blogger, adds gagging clause to Adsense
The Register, Oct. 2, 2003

Disturbing report about Google dumping one of its AdSense content providers, leaving the person with no ability to dispute allegations of fraudulent clicks. Also highlights a new clause preventing those in the program from discussing it.

Web crawler--anti-piracy super hero
Reuters, June 13, 2003

The Web Crawler is an automated tool designed to sniff out software theft on the internet. Not mentioned in the story is the irony of a tool designed to fight copyright theft perhaps infringing on the trademark of meta search engine

In House Counsel: Google growth
The National Law Journal, June 2, 2003

Interview with David Drummond, Google's general counsel who leads a team of 15 lawyers at the company -- compared to only 2 lawyers when Drummond signed on just over a year ago. He comments on the China filtering case and negotiating a settlement with the Church Of Scientology but wouldn't comment on active cases such as the dispute with SearchKing.

Search Engines and Legal Issues
SearchDay, October 23, 2002

What do Playboy and pagejacking, tarot readings and taxes all have in common? They were the subjects of ground-breaking court cases that set legal precedents for acceptable practices on the web.

Search Engines and Legal Issues, Continued
SearchDay, October 24, 2002

Is copying a web page 'fair use'? How many of your competitors' keywords or trademarks can you legally use on a web page? Recent court cases provided answers.

Search Engine Standards, Please!
SearchDay, October 8, 2002

Search engines should set standards and adhere to them, say webmasters, advertisers and a senior attorney for the Federal Trade Commission. Uniform standards would serve both web site owners and searchers.

Search Engine Optimization and the Law
SearchDay, Oct. 3, 2001

Legal experts urge webmasters to think carefully before using tactics such as competitors' words in meta tags or buying trademarked keywords on search engines.

Advertising & Listings

Hands Off! That Fact Is Mine
Wired, March 3, 2004,1367,62500,00.html

A proposed US law to protect databases has critics claiming it will give companies ownership over facts, which currently have no copyright protections.

Feds Arrest Alleged Google Extortionist, March 22, 2004

We've long done sessions at Search Engine Strategies involving how to monitor your PPC campaigns for fraudulent clicks. Despite safeguards in place by search engines, things still get through. But here's an extreme case of a man accused of trying to extort $100,000 from Google. He allegedly threatened to "destroy" Google with software that would run up fraudulent clicks on Google's contextual ads during a meeting with a company. Another good account of the story here from the San Jose Mercury News. For some past Search Engine Watch articles on the topic of auditing your click charges, see Ask the Search Engine: Coping with Fraudulent Pay-Per-Click Traffic and Perfecting Paid Search Engine Listings.

Accountant 'Googles' Himself, Sues for Libel
AP, March 19, 2004

An accountant unhappy with the information Google returned on a search for his name has filed a libel suit against the firm. He wants a court to ban PageRank, saying it "reformats information obtained from accurate sources." PageRank (a popularity score Google uses for each page and only one of many different ranking factors) has nothing to do with it. Instead, it seems that Google listed a page or pages about this person that he claims libel him. The issue really isn't PageRank but rather should a search engine be liable for the veracity of material it lists? Jennifer Laycock takes a closer look at the story here: In this, she finds PageRank is being confused with how Google creates descriptions or "snippets" for the pages it lists. (permalink)

Trademark Infringement Disputes Among Search Providers Heat Up
MediaPost, March 8, 2004

Review of the "Leggo My Trademark" panel at the recent Search Engine Strategies conference, where the panel examines issues such as the American Blind lawsuit against Google and other trademark related problems.

Google faces trademark suit over keyword ads, Jan. 28, 2004

Google and several of its partners are being sued over ads linked to words that are also trademarks. BusinessWeek also has some good background involving the same companies, but before the countersuit was filed:

Search Engines and Trademark Issues
SearchDay, Dec. 22, 2003

The use of trademarked phrases in search engine marketing is controversial, with owners of protected marks at risk of misuse from both competitors and affiliates.

Google wants ruling on search trademark law, Dec. 4, 2003

Google has asked a US District Court to rule that it has the right to have advertising linked to terms that are also trademarks.

Google Faces Fight Over Ads & Trademarks In France
The Search Engine Report, Nov. 5, 2003

Days after Google was fined by a French court for selling ads linked to the terms claimed as trademarks, news emerged that Louis Vuitton launched its own trademark-related action against Google. A look at some of the complicated issues involved.

Lycos drops Overture amid dispute
CBS MarketWatch, Nov. 4, 2003{DC717AA3-518A-4ABA-96C0-46E94C4E232A}

Terra Lycos files a lawsuit against Overture in a contract dispute and also drops Overture paid listings from its search pages at and

Google France fined for trademark violation, Oct. 16 2003

Google's been fined by a French court for selling ads linked the terms "travel market" and "airflight market" which are apparently claimed as trademarks by two French travel agencies. Google is appealing the case. See also: Google Ordered to Pay Fine in French Trademark Case.

Implications for the ability to sell keywords? Hard to say. Excite lost a case in Germany in 2000 for linking keywords to banner ads, yet there was later a settlement and search engines certainly continue to sell terms there today. In the US, the Body Solutions case over keyword-linked paid listings filed last year remains in progress.

Overall, maybe this will be the case that clears up the issue in France. Elsewhere, the legalities remain untested.

Overture goes to court in T-Online battle
NetImperative, Sept. 1, 2003

Enter a new chapter of search engines and legal issues. Overture has apparently obtained an injunction forcing major German ISP T-Online to carry its results. T-Online dumped Overture's results last month, switching over to Google. Yahoo's impending purchase of Overture caused the switch. T-Online sees Yahoo as a bigger competitor than Google. Overture claims breach of contract; T-Online claims a change-of-control clause lets it break the contract a year earlier than planned. T-Online results remain Google powered, when I last checked. According to this article, it may be because T-Online has yet to actually be served with the injunction.

Trademarks cast shadow on paid search, Aug. 19, 2003

Trademark issues with search engines are growing, as merchant ponder how to deal with affiliates and others who purchase terms that may also be their trademarks. Ultimately, it's likely to come down to a court decision over what's acceptable.

eBay Bans Google Keywords
AuctionBytes, Aug. 7, 2003

To my knowledge, this was the breaking story on the eBay request for Google to ban the use of its name as a term that ads can be linked to. Has a few more good details, such as apparently an attempt to ban bids on "auction web sites" and "bay," plus the fact that trademark terms can be linked to ads in eBay's own paid listings program.

Google wins over SearchKing in PageRank case
Pandia, June 2, 2003

SearchKing's case against Google involving its PageRank rating is dismissed in Google's favor.

Harvard study wrestles with Gator, May 22, 2003

Describes new research and web pages from Harvard's Ben Edelman that explain how Gator targets web sites with contextual ads. Lots of interesting comments from Gator, as well, on how everything's not revealed.

Harvard Criticizes Google's Adult Content Filter
SearchDay, April 16, 2003

Google's SafeSearch porn filter was found to exclude non-porn sites such as the American Library Association, in a recent test conducted by the Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

Call for OFT inquiry into search listing price rise
New Media Age, April 3, 2003

Overture UK upped its minimum bid in February, then fierce rival Espotting did the same. Bring in the regulatory Office Of Fair Trading, says one advertiser of Overture (and probably Espotting, but the story doesn't say). Sorry, says the OFT so far, we don't see a problem.

SearchKing update: preliminary injunction denied
LawMeme, Jan. 24, 2003

Google wins in getting SearchKing's preliminary injunction request denied. The judge finds that Google essentially has the right to issue opinions about web sites. A good breakdown of key issues in the ruling. wins right to criticize rival, March 31, 2003 wins back the right to criticize its rival J.K Harris. A court previously had granted a preliminary injunction saying that's use of the J.K Harris name constituted trademark infringement, as it was seen as causing to rank well for "J.K. Harris" in search engines. had used the name frequently, a key issue as why the injunction was originally granted. However, a higher court didn't find the references "gratuitous" but instead necessary to make statements about J.K. Harris.

Google Asks Court to Dismiss SearchKing Lawsuit
SearchDay, Jan. 13, 2003

Google has responded to SearchKing's lawsuit alleging that Google improperly reduced SearchKing's PageRank scores, and has filed a motion to dismiss the case.

Google Sued Over PageRank Decrease
The Search Engine Report, Nov. 4, 2002

Google finds itself now being sued by a site owner who saw a decrease in the "PageRank" score reported to those who use the Google Toolbar. He claims Google penalized him unfairly, because he was running a network designed to broker links between sites with high PageRank. Others might feel Google, if the allegations of penalties are true, acted in self-defense. A look at the case, issues it raises and the overall "linking lunacy" that it epitomizes

LookSmart Hit With Potential Class Action Lawsuit Over Submission Program
The Search Engine Report, June 3, 2002

A proposed class action lawsuit claiming breach of contract, fraudulent business practices and misleading advertising has been filed against LookSmart over a recent change in how the company sells some of its commercial web site listings.

Lawsuit Over Paid Placements To Define Search Engines
The Search Engine Report, Feb. 4, 2002

Must something that calls itself a "search engine" provide trademark holders with some degree of visibility, regardless of payment, if they also carry ads for searches involving those trademarks? That will be determined in a $440 million legal action filed last week by the maker of the Body Solutions weight-loss program against AltaVista, FindWhat, Kanoodle and Overture. Also discusses the Nissan paid listings case, at the end.

Google: No Pop-Ups
SearchDay, Jan. 30, 2002

Google takes a strong stand on those pesky pop-up windows.

Consumer Group Asks FTC To Investigate Search Ads, July 17, 2001

Is it deceptive advertising to include paid listings in your search results and not clearly label them as ads? A group backed by consumer advocate Ralph Nader believes so, and it's asking the US Federal Trade Commission to take action against seven major search companies.

Spam Scam Targets GoTo Listings
Wired, July 6, 2001,1367,44901,00.html

What if you had a listing on GoTo and everyone clicked on it, just to run up your bill? A look at the things the company does to prevent fraud.

Playboy Ruling Recognizes Limits to Online Rights of Trademark Holders
New York Times, Sept. 15, 2000

Covers the ruling against Playboy in the case involving banner ads on Excite and Netscape.

Estee Launder Settles Part of Keyword Ad Suit
The Search Engine Report, Sept. 4, 2000

Estee Lauder settles its lawsuits against iBeauty, which placed keyword-linked banner ads on Excite. Cases against Excite continue.

Excite, iBeauty Lose Key Name Use Lawsuit
Newsbytes, March 13, 2000
--no longer online--

Estee Lauder has won in its fight to prevent Excite from selling banner ads linked to its trademarks, at least in Germany. Cases remain pending in France and the United States, and the Germany ruling is open to appeal.

Playboy Loses In Excite Banner Dispute
The Search Engine Report, August 2, 1999

Playboy loses in the lawsuit against Excite, described below.

Psst Want to Buy a Keyword?
Industry Standard, March 8, 1999
--no longer online--

One of the better articles on the issues revolving around the Playboy and Estee Lauder lawsuits against Excite, over banner advertisements involving their trademarks. It includes a survey of the different policies search engines have, at least for those who were willing to answer the question. This shouldn't be a mystery to a curious public and potential advertisers. Each search engine should have or should establish a policy on this issue.

Excite, Netscape Sued Over Banner Ads
The Search Engine Report, March 3, 1999

Covers lawsuits that Estee Lauder and Playboy have filed against Excite for selling banner ads linked to their trademarks, without their permission.

GTE Files Federal Suit Over Yahoo-Related Listing
The Search Engine Report, Nov. 5, 1997

GTE filed a US lawsuit in Oct. 1997 claiming the US regional phone companies, along with Netscape and Yahoo, conspired to monopolize the Internet yellow pages market and prevent companies with competing products from reaching Internet consumers.

Netscape, Yahoo Under Fire Over Guide Listings
The Search Engine Report, Sept. 3, 1997

Switchboard and GTE are suing Yahoo and Netscape over how their competitors have exclusive deals or preferential treatment in the Netscape Guide By Yahoo.

Web mall blasts Yahoo over listing, May 24, 1997,4,11030,00.html

Yahoo didn't list a Chicago-based virtual mall where its owner wanted, making him complain that the private company acts as a public enterprise and thus could unfairly restrict free trade by its policies. It wasn't a court battle, but it could be a warning of things to come.

Crawling And Linking
(see also Meta Search)

The US White House & Blocking Search Engines
SearchDay, Nov. 6, 2003

At the end of last month, controversy erupted over the US White House preventing portions of its web site from being indexed by search engines. Was the White House doing this as a means to rewrite history unnoticed, or was it an innocent mistake? Looks at blocking pages from search engines and why some "partially indexed" pages at Google may still have descriptions.

Deep links are legal in Germany. Official
The Register, July 20, 2003

A German court rules it was legal for search engine Paperboy to provide deep links to web sites.

Linker vs. Lawyer: The Deep Link Controversy Continues
SearchDay, July 16, 2002

Paul Alan Levy, an attorney for the Public Citizen Litigation Group, squares off with Eric Ward, one of the web's most respected authorities on the current legal controversy over links and linking.

Linking Legalities: What You Need to Know
SearchDay, July 10, 2002

Powerful interests are threatening anyone creating "deep links" to their web sites. Should you be worried? Eric Ward, a leading authority on web links, cuts through the bluster to pinpoint the important issues.

Google cache raises copyright concerns, July 9, 2003

Google's cached pages is a great feature, but is it legal under copyright laws? Google says yes but others aren't so certain. Eventually, a court case may decide (none have been filed, but this is predicted to happen). Nice details here about the caching feature. Google says most people actually don't make use of this. Also interesting to read that the New York Times may be getting some express help from Google to "fix" the problem of its content being cached. Of course, once the content is pulled into a registration area, the cached version of the original article ought to disappear within a week to a month -- so it's more of an irritating factor for the NYT than a crisis. Note that Google is no longer the only major search engine to offer caching. Yahoo does, as well. Yes, Google powers this caching at Yahoo currently. However, I'd expect this will remain as a feature when Inktomi results take over. Finally, Google says that using the no cache tag doesn't affect rankings. That's true. But Google has also said that sites using the tag may open themselves up to more scrutiny for potential spam violations. In short, use it, and you make yourself suspicious.

Deep Linking Lunacy
SearchDay, July 9, 2002

A Danish court has ruled that "deep linking" is illegal, and pundits say this decision spells doom for the Net. Should you be worried? Hardly.

AltaVista, Google Remove Controversial Links
IDG, April 18, 2002,aid,94843,00.asp

Threatened with a lawsuit from the German rail operator Deutsche Bahn, AltaVista and Google said they would remove links to a web site explaining how to sabotage railway systems. A resolution with Yahoo is apparently still pending.

Google Embroiled In Scientology Debate
The Search Engine Report, April 2, 2002

Google found itself accused of censorship, after it removed some pages from an anti-Scientology web site in response to a legal request made by the Church of Scientology. This article examines how the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act was involved and its implications for web searching.

Link Law Revisited: Internet Linking Law at Five Years
Berkeley Technology Law Journal, Fall 2001

Overview of various linking legal cases, but this paper also goes into meta tag and other search engine-related issues, as well.

Forget Smart Tags; TopText Is Doing What You Feared
Search Engine, Aug. 22, 2001

Bad press got Microsoft to recently abandon plans for "Smart Tags" that turned words on web pages into hyperlinks that it or others could control. However, another company's system to do this, called TopText, is live, growing in popularity, and has some site owners up in arms.

Microsoft Smart Tags Abandoned
The Search Engine Report, July 2, 2001

Microsoft has given up on its plan to add "Smart Tags" to web pages viewed by those using Internet Explorer and Windows XP, following bad publicity over the system.

No Bots Allowed!
Interactive Week, April 12, 2001,4164,2707542,00.html

I've written before (see articles below) that the robots.txt file might be crucial in legal cases involving search engines interacting with web sites. This article takes another look at some of the issues involved, with some comments from the original author of the robots.txt standard.

Bidder's Edge pushes Web site over cliff, Feb. 15, 2001

The auction meta search service sought that fought against eBay and lost is now closing.

Tough Times for Data Robots
New York Times, Jan. 12, 2001

Crawlers face another legal roadblock, due to a injunction last month preventing Verio from running a robot to gather potential customer leads from's publicly-accessible WHOIS database.

Ruling vs. Bidder's Edge hurts Net, group says
Bloomberg, July 18, 2000

Auction meta search site Bidder's Edge gets 28 law professors to file a friend-of-the-court brief on its behalf, saying that the temporary ban against spidering eBay threatens search engines and linking in general.

Is Linking Illegal?
New York Times, June 16, 2000

Looks at a new case where linking to illegal material itself might be ruled illegal.

Bidder's Edge Walks Legal Line, June 9, 2000,1928,2001_391831,00.html

Explains how Bidder's Edge is getting around the ban on spidering eBay.

Judge Says a Spider Is Trespassing on EBay
New York Times, May 26, 2000

A judge has decided that spidering of eBay by Bidder's Edge constitutes trespassing (see article below). Bidder's Edge plans to appeal the decision.

Auction Search Case Awaits Ruling
The Search Engine Report, May 3, 2000

Discusses the case where auction site eBay wants to keep out auction search engine Bidder's Edge. Has lots of links to related cases involving indexing and deep linking.

News Robot Leads To Linking, Indexing Dispute
The Search Engine Report, Jan. 9, 1998

News search engine News Index crawled The Sunday Times web site, and the paper complained. The situation was resolved peacefully, but the article highlights the possible importance of the robots.txt file where a case might go to court.

MSoft, Ticketmaster Bury Hatchet
Wired News, Feb 16, 1999

Microsoft and Ticketmaster settled their dispute over internal linking out-of-court. A trial might have involved arguments over the robots.txt file, as explained in the article below.

Ticketmaster, Microsoft and Search Engines
The Search Engine Report, June 6, 1997

Details about Ticketmaster's lack of a robots.txt file, and the implications this might have on its dispute over internal linking with Microsoft.

Linking And Crawling Issues

This article covers some of the legal aspects of linking and crawling that may have an impact on both web site developers and search engines. Written by attorney Ivan Hoffman who specializes in online content and intellectual property issues

Domain Names

Trademark Holders Don't Automatically Win Similar Domain Names, Federal Judge Rules
The Legal Intelligencer, Aug. 31, 2001

Just because you hold a trademark doesn't mean you are entitled to take a domain name that makes use of the mark away from someone else, a US judge rules. This is especially the case, when there is little likelihood of confusion between web sites. Also, note that at the very end, the ability for people to easily find a trademark holder's site via search engines plays an important role. It was deemed as mitigating any initial confusion if users end up at the "wrong" site by entering the domain name

Parody sites sucked into cybersquatting squabbles, Aug. 24, 2000

Long, interesting article on how protest and parody sites are losing out in wars over domains that contain the names of their targets. Want to be safe? Don't use the company name in your domain name, regardless of whether that seems fair. But even that might not stop them for suing you.

Yahoo Casts Wide Net To Protect Domain Name
Newsbytes, April 27, 2000

Yahoo seeks control over 37 domain names it considers through the new ICANN domain resolution policy -- setting a new record for number of disputes recorded at once.

Northern Light Wins Domain Suit
Northern Light, April 11 2000

Northern Light obtained a restraining order forcing the web site (notice the S) to be removed. In its place is a text link to the search engine. The US District Court in Massachusetts determined that Northern Light would succeed at trial with its cybersquatting claim and issued the order in mid-April.

AOL beats Netizen in domain spat, June 25, 1999,4,38419,00.html

Describes the effort AOL went through to gain control of the domain. ordered to cease and desist, Dec. 1, 1998,4,29396,00.html

Netscape counter-threatens the person who established the site, claiming trademark infringement. See Nov. 9, 1998 article below.

Keywords Threaten Domain Name System
TechWeb, Nov. 9, 1998

The owner of is upset with Smart Browsing and keyword addressing systems that may stop him from cashing in on those actually trying to reach So, he's considering a lawsuit.

Government Regulation

Ruling clouds plans for search functions
San Jose Mercury News, March 25, 2004

The European Union has told Microsoft it has to unbundle its media player. Does that mean plans to perhaps have a super-search tool built into the operating system won't fly, either? A look at the possible repercussions.

Search may be Microsoft's next target, court told, Jan. 16, 2004

Massachusetts makes claims that Microsoft may be using its operating system dominance to hinder search companies from competing with it, according to filings in an anti-trust action. However, the filing gives no specifics. It's also going to be an interesting argument to defend, given that Microsoft is very much in third place in terms of traffic, behind Google and Yahoo. Indeed, despite Microsoft's operating system dominance, both other companies have thrived.

The Internet Under Surveillance
SearchDay, July 10, 2003

One of the key architects of the Internet is calling for users to exercise 'due diligence' to assure that governments do not censor information for political purposes.

Google Filtering Of French & German Web Sites Revealed
The Search Engine Report, Nov. 4, 2002

A Harvard Law School study brought to light that fact Google does not include certain web sites in the French and German versions of its search engines, in particular neo-Nazi or white supremacy sites that have content that might be deemed illegal to publish in France and Germany. It should be noted that similar filtering may be happening at other search engines, but the study only encompassed a look at Google.

China's Great Wall Against Google And AltaVista
The Search Engine Report, Sept. 16, 2002

In August and September 2002, people in China were unable to reach Google and AltaVista, due apparently to blocking by the Chinese authorities.

FAST Complies with FTC Search Engine Advisory
SearchDay, July 24, 2002

Responding to recent FTC recommendations, FAST has added additional information about how it crawls web pages and displays search results, including information about paid placement and paid inclusion content.

FTC Recommends Disclosure To Search Engines, July 2, 2002

The US Federal Trade Commission has made a landmark recommendation to the search engine industry that it should improve disclosure of paid content within search results. The action came in response to a deceptive advertising complaint made last year by watchdog group Commercial Alert. A detailed look behind the cause of the complaint and the FTC's recommendations.

Consumer Group Asks FTC To Investigate Search Ads, July 17, 2001

Is it deceptive advertising to include paid listings in your search results and not clearly label them as ads? A group backed by consumer advocate Ralph Nader believes so, and it's asking the US Federal Trade Commission to take action against seven major search companies.

FTC Steps In To Stop Spamming
The Search Engine Report, Oct. 3, 1999

The US Federal Trade Commission extends its authority to include regulating misleading search results, taking action against two companies accused of tricking consumers.

Search Engines Get Behind Self-Regulation, Sort Of
The Search Engine Report, Aug. 5, 1997

Several search engines announced they were going to work together to promote self-regulation of the Internet, in support of a White House proposal for self-regulation of the web.


Infoseek executive arrested on solicitation charges
Bloomberg, Sept. 18, 1999

A top Infoseek exec is charged with trying to solicit sex with a minor via the Internet.

On the Internet, there is such thing as free labor, Sept. 7, 1999

A look at labor issues involved with using volunteers to build directories.

AOL not alone in volunteer controversy, May 27, 1999,4,37144,00.html

A good look at how the use of volunteers at places like the Open Directory, GeoCities and Tripod might result in lawsuits, such as the one AOL currently faces.

Meta Tags

Meta Tag Lawsuits
The link above will take you to a page within Search Engine Watch that summarizes major lawsuits and court cases involving meta tags.

Meta Search

Movement In Meta Search
The Search Engine Report, May 3, 2000

Touches very briefly on the fact that major meta search sites tend to get agreements for the sites they query, since the legality of meta search is unclear.

Courting Retailers
Internet World, Jan. 15, 2000

eBay may not especially like meta search services, but plenty of other retailers see advantages in participating.

A Search Site for Search Sites Is Accused of Trespassing
New York Times, Sept. 24, 1999

A meta search service for online shoppers taps into another meta search service for shoppers, and a lawsuit results.

The Webinator: Judgment Day
Wired, Oct. 30, 1998

Are meta search engines legal? This article doesn't really answer the question, but as long as they don't pose a significant threat, the major search engines seem happy to ignore them. FYI, Go2Net/MetaCrawler has agreements with the major search engines to tap into their results.

Multimedia Search

Multimedia Search Complaints
The link above will take you to a page within Search Engine Watch that summarizes complaints involving multimedia and MP3 search engines.


Pagejacking, a term first coined by the US Federal Trade Commission, is making a copy of someone else's web page and submitting it as your own to a search engine, in hopes of attaining a high ranking. It is closely tied to the concept of doorway pages, and pagejacking attempts may also involve page cloaking. Background about both doorway pages and page cloaking can be found in the What Are Doorway Pages? article. The articles below related to legal cases involving pagejacking.

Cyber Law Journal: Invisible Publishing Sparks a Lawsuit
New York Times, June 29, 2001

We've had metajacking and pagejacking, and now here's a new one -- a case involving allegations of copyjacking. Copyjacking? A new term I've made up for taking HTML body copy from someone else's page and posting it to your own in hopes of attaining higher search engine rankings. It involves the horoscope site alleging that InternetHoroscopes, a site, used text from EasyScopes to boost its rankings. By the way, the "tricks" used by EasyScope as mentioned at the end of the article aren't aimed at search engines but instead at potential copyjackers, the company says. They include spelling errors to make it easier for EasyScopes to track down unauthorized use of its material.

Pagejacking Complaint Involves High-Profile Sites, May 12, 2000

Discusses a complaint filed with the FTC involving the alleged theft of web pages from high profile sites such as Disney, CNET and the Discovery Channel. The complaint claims that the content was pagejacked to generate traffic via search engines for other high profile sites such as eToys and Barnes & Noble.

FTC Steps In To Stop Spamming
The Search Engine Report, Oct. 3, 1999

The US Federal Trade Commission extends its authority to include regulating misleading search results, taking action against two companies accused of tricking consumers.

A Bridge Page Too Far?
The Search Engine Report, Feb. 3, 1998

This isn't about a legal case. Instead, this article is included because it was the first to raise the issue of page cloaking with the general public and poll for official reactions from search engines.


Google hit with 'geo-location' lawsuit, March 30, 2004

Digital Envoy, which provides Google with the ability to target ads by searcher location, is suing Google for allegedly violating its licensing agreement. Google apparently has been using geotargeting on sites in its advertising network, while the licensing agreement only allows for use on Google's own sites.

Digital Envoy claims this use has greatly increased Google's revenue, while its $8,000 per month licensing fee hasn't reflected this. The company didn't feel a $12,000 per month offer by Google for expanded use reflected a fair value for its services.

Google recently expanded its geotargeting capabilities, but the case includes geotargeting that happened even before this.

Southfield company files patent suit against Google over Toolbar
Crain's Detroit Business, Feb. 26, 2004

NetJumper says the Google Toolbar violates patents that it holds.

Patents raise stakes in search wars, Feb. 25, 2004

Looks at the various patents that search companies possess and how they might be ultimately deployed to gain a competitive advantage. Provides an update that the dispute over a patent on paid listings filed against Google by Overture is now moving into discovery -- and now involves Yahoo, as Overture's owner. A similar case filed against FindWhat goes to trial in August.

A Selection of Recently Awarded Search Related Patents & Recently Published Search Related Patent Applications
ResourceShelf, February 2004

Gary Price's monthly round-up of new search patents, featuring a new one listing Sergey Brin as inventor.

The "Florida Update" ... Exposed ? (Google Patent Problem)
JimWorld, Dec. 22, 2003

This was a gem coming out over the holidays. Turns out, Stanford University owns the patent on PageRank, a part of the Google ranking system. Google apparently says it has full rights to use the patented work, so potentially, it's not a problem. But author John Cokos theorizes that the recent Google ranking changes were due to its need to wean itself off of PageRank for a complication-free IPO.

More likely, the changes are due to the fact that no major search engine can continue to depend on link analysis as much in the past, as search engine marketers have gotten smarter about linkage. So the latest changes at Google are more a return to the "arms race" in the past between marketers and search engines, and one you can expect will continue for any search engine that relies on automated gathering to power its search results.

By the way, Google most definitely was talking about "organic" issues at the recent Search Engine Strategies conference in Chicago. The company was on a number of panels that dealt solely with organic issues, and its representatives certainly did not sit there and say nothing.

A Selection of Recently Awarded Search Related Patents and Recently Published Search Applications, Nov. 19, 2003

Gary Price's regular round-up of recent search-related patents. Challenges AOL and Google over Search Patent, Oct. 28, 2003

Online auction service Bidway claims that AOL and Google are violating a patent it holds about using ZIP codes to deliver personalized results. Google doesn't actually use ZIP codes for the localization it has rolled out (see As for AOL, the localization it's doing doesn't involve Google's new service, to my knowledge. Somehow, I don't think this suit will be going far. By the way, I'm told from a reader that InfoSpace has a US patent (6,295,528) covering the use of DMA-targeting to provide localized results. Google most definitely does that.

Overture to a patent war?, July 18, 2003

Overture has a variety of patents relating to web search, with lawsuits about paid listings already having been filed against Google and FindWhat. One reason Yahoo wanted Overture was for those patents, certainly to protect itself against suits and perhaps to go after others. But Google also has search patents, as does Microsoft and others.

Updated List of Recent Microsoft Search Related Patents/Patent Apps and Technical Writing
ResourceShelf, July 15. 2003

Rundown on recent Microsoft search patents and research papers.

Recently Awarded "Search Related" U.S. Patents and Recently Published Patent Applications, June 8, 2003

The headline says it all -- a recap of new patents granted that relate to search.

24/7 Real Media Wields Patent Cudgel, July 1, 2003

Overture has a lawsuit going against Google and FindWhat, saying they violate its patents on paid listings. Now 24/7 says it has a patent that covers paid listings companies and that it intends to gain licensing deals or perhaps take its case to court.

Overture sued over Fast acquisition, May 8, 2003

MRT Micro is suing Overture, claiming it owns some of the search technology that Overture acquired as part of its AllTheWeb purchase.

Google lands Web search patent, Feb. 26, 2003

Google gets its first patent, covering the company's method of ranking search results.

"Just Issued" Info Retrieval Related Patents and "Just Filed" Patent Apps
The ResourceShelf, Feb. 17, 2003

Roundup of a variety of new patents or patents-pending relating to search.

Google Seeks to Invalidate Rival Overture's Web Search Patents
Bloomberg, June 19, 2002

Overture has a patent relating to bid-for-placement services and has filed a suit against Google, claiming that company's paid listing program violates the patent. In response, Google is now asking that the patent be invalidated, saying that Overture operated its system for a year before filing a patent claim. That might invalidate the patent, though Overture says it is on firm ground.

Overture Files Patent Lawsuit Against Google
The Search Engine Report, May 6, 2002

Overture filed a lawsuit against Google last month, claiming that Google has infringed on its patents that apply to bid-for-placement search ranking and for account management tools.

Search Engine Wants Overture Patents Invalidated, Jan. 29, 2002

FindWhat is challenging a patent Overture has bidding for placement. Takes on Rival's Search Patent, Jan. 24, 2002,,12_960971,00.html

Another story on the patent fight between FindWhat and Overture.

New Search Patents
SearchDay, July 17, 2001

Newly issued patents offer fascinating glimpses of emerging search technologies -- including those that may pose serious threats to your favorite search engine.

Keen wins patent for phone-advice system, April 25, 2001

Keen is a search engine with a twist -- you search to find human beings who will provide a custom answer, typically by phone. Now the company has obtained a patent on its system. Don't look for it to be filing lawsuits, however. The company says it got the patent to protect itself against others.

Patent Wars II: CMGI Strikes Back
The Search Engine Report, Feb. 6, 2001

CMGI's claims that patents AltaVista holds might force other search engines to pay royalties are likely nothing to worry about. The same type claims made by Lycos in 1997 went nowhere (see Patent Wars!, below).

AltaVista Wins Patents For Search Technology
AltaVista Press Release, Nov. 13, 2000

AltaVista claims new patents for methods of identifying and eliminating duplicate pages, ranking results by degrees of relevancy and spidering techniques. Do the patents pose problems for other search engines? Probably not. For example, nothing ever came of the conflicting Lycos and Infoseek patents at the end of 1997 (see Patent Wars!, below).

Ask Jeeves denies infringing MIT professors' patents
Reuters, Dec.17, 1999

Two MIT professors claim in a lawsuit that Ask Jeeves should have asked them before infringing on their natural language search patents. Ask Jeeves says the case is without merit.

Patent Wars!
The Search Engine Report, Oct. 6, 1997

Lycos announced it was to receive a search engine-related patent. Infoseek said it already had been granted one. Will there be suits over royalties? It's not that simple

Privacy And User Information

Welcome To The Google Desktop?
The Search Engine Report, April 2, 2004

Will Google's new Gmail free email system be just the first of many things we begin moving to a new Google Desktop? If so, Microsoft might have a lot more to worry about than web search. But might concerns over privacy prevent Google's success?

Google seeks consensus on personal-info issues
USA Today, March 22, 2004

You've read it before, and here it is again. Google -- and apparently only Google -- makes it easier for people to find out your personal details. As always, this is a problem, but it's a SEARCH ENGINE problem. If Google is "the biggest privacy invader on the planet," as a former CTO of the Privacy Foundation puts it, then so is Yahoo and Ask Jeeves, at the very least. They also operate powerful crawlers. And Google cofounder Larry Page is right -- it would be nice if the internet, or at least the search engine industry, sought some consensus on how to handle the real concerns people may have. For more on this topic, see also Search Privacy And User Information.

Leading Internet Providers Oppose Passage of Spyware Control Act
MediaPost, March 15, 2004

Google and Yahoo are among several prominent internet companies who are urging Utah's governor not to sign a spyware control act into law. They say the definition of spyware is too broad.

The perils of Googling
The Register, March 10, 2004

Google -- AND OTHER SEARCH ENGINES! -- provide ways for hackers and others to research ways into material you may have thought was secure. It's not something that the search engines do actively. Rather, they simply record material that you may not realize gives away vital clues into your system. This is a nice article that discusses how to protect yourself. The focus is Google-specific, but some of the tips will be applicable to other search engines such as Yahoo, as well.

Canadian youth in California found out who he is through
AP, Feb. 19, 2004

Teenager googles his first name and discovers he was abducted as a child. FYI, I tried repeating the search (he's named in the article) and came up with nothing about a missing child on Google (for the first five pages of results) or Google Images (for the first two pages of results).

Online Search Engines Help Lift Cover of Privacy
Washington Post, Feb. 9, 2004

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