Scientology Crime Syndicate

Dobe R Mann <dobe_r_mann@nospamsorclamshotmail.com>
Meta-tags lawsuit (Individual -1 Corporations -0) Terminix
Tue, 14 Mar 2000 22:56:11 GMT

Site No Longer Bugs Terminix
by Craig Bicknell

To say Carla Virga has been bugging pest control giant Terminix is both a bad pun and an understatement.

For two-plus years, Virga, a California secretary, has maintained a Web site bashing Terminix for bad service. Type in Terminix on any search engine and Virga's scathing site will pop up right there with the official company Web pages. The site has logged thousands of visitors.

Terminix has tried to exterminate Virga's site twice -- first with a defamation lawsuit that was quickly dismissed, then with a suit claiming Virga's use of the word "Terminix" and others in her Web sites' "metatags" constituted trademark infringement. (Metatags are identifying words hidden within Web pages that help search engines to find relevant sites.)

Free speech advocates decried both suits as blatant attempts to stifle First Amendment rights, and Ralph Nader's group Public Citizen rushed to Virga's defense.

Terminix's parent company, Memphis, Tennessee-based ServiceMaster, this week quietly dropped the metatag suit. Company officials were not available for comment.

Virga's attorney hailed Terminix's decision to back off as a victory for consumers and the Constitution.

"This tells other consumers with Web sites that they shouldn't roll over and play dead if a corporation comes after them," said Paul Alan Levy, a lawyer for Public Citizen.

"It also sends a message to other companies that the way to respond to criticism is by answering it, not suing to stop it."

Free speech advocates had feared the metatag suit, filed last October, could set a terrible precedent if it prevailed.

But Public Citizen pointed out gaping holes in Terminix's argument.

In a trademark case the plaintiff has to prove that the defendant's use of the trademark is confusing consumers. "How could Virga's metatags be confusing anyone when they're not visible?" asked Public Citizen lawyers in a brief filed on Virga's behalf last month.

Terminix's response: The tags confuse the search engine, which is acting as the consumer's proxy.

"That's not a totally frivolous argument, except that the Terminix metatags direct consumers to a site that's about Terminix," Levy said. "Moreover, Virga's site is a non-commercial Web site, so trademark issues don't apply."

While Terminix has dropped its suit, there may yet be litigation between the bug killer and Virga.

"I'd be on the lookout for a suit in California charging Terminix with abuse of process and malicious prosecution," Levy said. "I imagine there are plenty of lawyers in California who would find this a very interesting case."

Dobe R Mann
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