Thursday, March 12, 2009

Federal Judge Dismisses Cybersquatting Complaint Against UNITE HERE, Teamsters

By Nancy Scola

Setting up a website that's less than friendly to one corporate entity or another is common practice among union organizing drives these days -- or (against a Chicago hospital chain), for example. Employers, understandably aren't too fond of the tactic. One of them, in fact, recently went to court to fight it.

Cintas, the uniform company, had argued to the federal court in New York's Southern District that UNITE HERE and the Teamsters' organizing site crossed the line. (The relevant bit of law seems to the the Lanham Act, which has to do with bad-faith cybersquatting.)

In a dismissal of the case this week that the unions are hailing as important precedent, Judge William Pauley defended the unions' right to play on their adversary's brand. Cintas had argued in their "manifesto" to the court -- the Judge's word, not mine -- that it was unfair for the organizing site to link to the UNITE HERE site, because in turn linked to unionized uniform vendors, who are, in theory, Cintas competitors. Pauley found the guilt-by-link-association argument to be a stretch, writing "the twice-removed links to a union 'store' is at least one bridge too far."

Cintas had also argued that by inclusion of their company name in its URL, was guilty of "confusing Cintas's customers, diverting customers, sales, and profits way from Cintas and portraying Cintas in a bad light to the general consuming public," Pauley tried to inject a little come on, now, here into the process. "The likelihood of confusion among consumers visiting their websites," he writes, "is implausible."

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