Elkhorn woman loses Internet privacy lawsuit against Google
ELKHORN An Elkhorn woman’s legal campaign against Internet search companies for violating her privacy was met with defeat Wednesday when a federal appeals court in Chicago dismissed her third lawsuit.
In her most recent suit, Beverly Stayart alleged Google violated Wisconsin’s misappropriation law by using her name without permission to generate revenue through online advertising.
Stayart’s suit alleged that Google searches for “Bev Stayart” prompts Google to offer “Bev Stayart levitra” as a search term, which results in links to ads for medications including Levitra, Cialis and Viagra, all trademarked treatments for male erectile dysfunction.
Stayart claims to be a genealogy scholar, a leader in the animal rights movement and the only “Bev or Beverly Stayart on the Internet.” She asserts her name has significant commercial value and is a competitive keyword phrase for Internet search engines.
When a keyword is entered in a Google search, Google returns a number of links to the requested subject. Google automatically suggests additional keywords as the user begins to type a keyword phrase. The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago used “Chicago” as an example search, which automatically triggered keyword suggestions of “Chicago Bears” and “Chicago Tribune.”
Advertisers bid on keywords, and when an Internet user searches for a keyword, it triggers display of up to 11 “sponsored links” to the advertisers’ websites with the search results. Google earns revenue from each click on a sponsored link.
Stayart alleged that a search for “bev stayart levitra” results in an unwelcome sponsored link for Levitra.
District Judge Lynn Adelman dismissed Stayart’s suit in March 2011 concluding that Stayart’s name had no commercial value and that Google receives no value from the connection between her name and sexual dysfunction medications.
While Wisconsin law protects unauthorized commercial exploitation of a person’s name, the connection between the name and the commercial interest must be substantial, not incidental, according to Adelman’s decision.
Adelman also wrote that it’s not unlawful for Google to use someone’s name for the purpose of communicating information.
“The fact that a user queries plaintiff’s name and the phrase ‘bev stayart levitra’ pops up indicates only that other websites and users have connected plaintiff’s name with Levitra,” Adelman wrote.
Stayart’s husband, Gregory Stayart, appealed the decision, but the Seventh Circuit Court found Beverly Stayart’s suits against Internet search companies have made her name a matter of public interest, which is an exception to the law under which she is suing.
Court documents including Adelman’s dismissal and Beverly Stayart’s notice of appeal are matters of public interest to which the public has a right to access, according to the eight-page appeals opinion.
“Even if Google’s use of her name were substantial, it would still be entitled to the public interest exception,” according to the opinion.
Beverly Stayart called Wednesday’s decision “economically driven” and said the court was “ignoring the law in favor of big businesses.”
She said she would ask for a rehearing of the appeal.
Efforts to contact a Google spokesman weren’t successful.
Beverly Stayart’s two previous federal suits against search engine Yahoo! also were dismissed.
She also has a misappropriation suit in Walworth County Circuit against online data website Various, Inc.
Judge James Carlson has set a March 15 motion hearing in the case.