If you do an online search for "Bev Stayart," the search engine may suggest "bev stayart levitra." So the real Bev Stayart filed a lawsuit against Google and other search engines.
She wasn't pleased that her name is associated with a medication for erectile dysfunction. She sued Yahoo! and lost, and then filed a lawsuit against Google, claiming the search engine violated Wisconsin's privacy laws.
She's right that Wisconsin does have a right to privacy law. But did Google violate it when her name popped up in what's known as a "search assist"? Courts don't seem to think so.
Wisconsin's law prohibits the use of a name or picture of a person without written consent if it's used for advertising purposes. That's what Bev Stayart claimed Google was doing.
More specifically, she claimed Google's search assist was using her "fame" as a genealogy scholar and animal rights activist to sell erectile dysfunction drugs.
But the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Stayart didn't prove anything with regard to her claim, and it upheld Google's motion to dismiss, according to TechDirt.
The first problem with her case is that Google isn't actually doing anything; it's just reporting the results of its search in a public forum.
Stayart also failed to prove that her name has any commercial value for Google, or any search engine for that matter. She also had no proof that Google is even using her name for any purpose at all except to communicate information.
That's an important point since using her name because of its newsworthiness or to further the public interest is an exception to the Wisconsin law.
Stayart made news by filing the lawsuit which, ironically, makes the "bev stayart levitra" term even more relevant.
Is it possible for someone to misappropriate and misuse your likeness for advertising? Absolutely. And if that happens, you generally have a cause of action. But search results and search assists don't seem to be part of that cause of action.
Plus, Bev Stayart isn't doing herself any favors by pursing lawsuits. As one judge noted, she would likely have had better success out of court -- for example, by hiring a firm to improve the search engine optimization on her name.
- Beverly Stayart And The Art Of Search Engine Optimization (Popehat)
- Can You 'Fix' Embarrassing Google Search Results? (FindLaw's Technologist)
- Fed. Judge Orders Google to Remove Sites From Search Results (FindLaw's Decided)