Trademarks In Meta Tags OK, With Good Reason

Trademarks In Meta Tags OK, With Good Reason

From The Search Engine Report
April 30, 1998

A US court recently upheld the right for a former Playboy Playmate of the Year to use trademarked terms in her web site's meta tags, in order to properly classify the site with search engines.

The victory is a first after a series of defeats for those using trademarked terms in meta tags. Four previous lawsuits went against the defendants, including a US $3 million judgement against one.

The key difference with the case Playboy filed against its 1981 Playmate of the Year, Terri Welles, was that the judge in the case was convinced Welles had a legitimate reason to use the terms both on her page and within her tags. The other cases have all been tainted by some element of deception, where the infringing sites had no real reason to use the terms.

As always with these cases, it is extremely important to remember that the mere inclusion of trademarked terms in meta tags is not a guarantee that a site will do well for those words.

In particular, Playboy suggested that allowing Welles to use its terms would rob it of traffic meant for its site. In reality, for the words "playboy" and "playmate," Welles site fails to make it into the top thirty results with the major search engines. It has the most luck with "playmate of the year," and even with that term, it only ranks 12 with HotBot and 20 with Excite.

In short, her site presents no threat to Playboy's traffic. Even if she had made it into the top ten, the descriptions of her pages make no attempt to trick search engine users into thinking her site is Playboy's site. Nor would her presence have meant that Playboy's own pages wouldn't be present.

In most cases, a site hoping to actually "hijack" another company's traffic must resort to spamming a term in the tags or being extremely aggressive. Here, they are likely to fall afoul of each search engine's policies against spamming. Such tactics may also support an impression of deceitfulness, in a court case.

There are good reasons why a site might use trademarked terms in their tags, as well as on their web pages, so the victory by Welles is excellent news for those with legitimate needs. However, it still doesn't rule out the fact that someone may take legal action against you for using their terms, good reasons or not.

Meanwhile, those thinking they can grab another site's traffic by using trademarked terms would be advised that both the way search engines work and past legal actions are likely to make this a poor strategy.

Meta Tag Lawsuits

Summarizes the major lawsuits in the US involving meta tags and their resolutions, with notes about why each is important. Also includes links to articles and resources with more information on the various suits.