by Brian Wolfman
One of the nice things about the Internet is that it brings down the cost of communicating with the public, potentially democratizing free speech. At fairly low cost, consumers can establish websites that criticize big businesses. Sometimes those big businesses don't like that and sue the owners of the critical websites. Often the big businesses can't go after the speech itself. There's that pesky First Amendment (and similar free-speech rights in countries other than the U.S.). So, sometimes the big businesses try to shut down or limit the effectiveness of critical websites on trademark theories, often claiming that the visitors to the websites will be confused and think that the critical websites are somehow associated with the big businesses. (It's just like a big corporation, after all, to establish a website critical of itself!)
Here's a Chicago Tribune story about a website critical of United Airlines' treatment of consumers that has been sued in Canada by United Airlines on the theory that consumers will be confused and think that the critical site is sponsored by or is otherwise associated with United. The owner of the critical site, Jeremey Cooperstock, says that his site's design is intended to be a parody of United's site and that "[n]o reasonable person would possibly confuse my page with United's own page." The site says at the top of its homepage that "Untied" is an "Evil Alliance Member" and that "This is not the website of United Airlines." (The mispelling of "United" and the emphasis in "not" are both on Cooperstock's website.)
Is United just trying to squelch consumer criticism? Would anyone be confused and think United is behind Cooperstock's site? Go to the website and decide for yourself.