SEO Fined More Than Site Owner of Counterfeit Merchandise Site

Warning to all SEO consultants: you better read the copy you’re working on and understand if it’s breaking any laws, because a South Carolina judge found a marketer guilty and imposed more of a fine on the marketing firm than he did on the site owner, Internet Retailer reported.

“A federal judge in South Carolina entered a judgment against Bright Builders Inc. on counts of contributory trademark infringement and unfair trade practices for allegedly assisting in the construction and hosting of the e-commerce site Judge Margaret B. Seymour of the U.S. District Court for South Carolina ordered Bright Builders to pay $770,750 in statutory damages and Christopher Prince, owner of the web site, $28,250, according to lawyers for the plaintiff, Cleveland Golf Company Inc,” InternetRetailer noted.

The firm also hosted the site, so this could also be a serious warning to both marketing consultants and web hosts that they could be legally responsible for what their clients do with their services.

The lawyer for the golf company who manufactured the clubs being copied, Christopher Finnerty said “Bright Builders should have known that Prince’s e-commerce site was illegally selling counterfeits of trademarked goods” and obviously the jury agreed with him.

“The jury found that web hosts and SEO’s cannot rely solely on third parties to police their web sites and provide actual notice of counterfeit sales from the brand owners. Even prior to notification from a third party, Internet intermediaries must be proactive to stop infringing sales when they knew or should have known that these illegal sales were occurring through one of the web sites they host,” Finnerty said.

This appears to be the first case where jurors found the internet service provider liable for contributory infringement of the copyright laws.

The ambiguity here is that the company designed the website, did the SEO, and hosted the site — exactly what elements the jury used to determine blame was not separated, but I will be looking over the content of all sites in future. This was in a federal court so could be applied anywhere in the U.S.

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