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Woman who sued Google over ‘Levitra’ link to her name loses in 7th Circuit

Posted Mar 7, 2013 9:53 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal appeals court has tossed a lawsuit by a Wisconsin woman who claims Google violated state misappropriation laws by linking her name to erectile dysfunction drugs through its Google Suggest feature.

In an opinion issued on Wednesday, the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found no violation of a law that bars misappropriation of a person’s name or likeness for commercial purposes. Reuters and Ars Technica have stories.

The plaintiff, Beverly Stayart, had claimed that typing her name into Google automatically generates a suggested search for “bev stayart levitra.” Using the suggested search leads to linked ads for Levitra and other erectile dysfunction drugs.

The 7th Circuit found that Stayart had caused her own problem when she sued Yahoo in 2010 alleging that its search assist feature suggested “bev stayart levitra” when she typed in “Bev Stayart.” She filed the suit against Google four months later.

“The search term ‘bev stayart levitra’ is a matter of public interest primarily because Stayart has made it one and, given the current lawsuit, ensures that it remains so,” the 7th Circuit said. Google is protected under a newsworthiness or public interest exception to Wisconsin’s misappropriation law, the court said.

The court also said Google is protected because the misappropriation law does not apply when the connection to a commercial purpose is incidental.

Stayart’s LinkedIn page says she is CFO and director of business development for Stayart Law Offices. She told Ars Technica she is considering an appeal, although the decision will be up to her husband, who is representing her. “I feel that the decision was economically driven, in favor of Google and against the rights of the individual," she said.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Woman Upset by Porn Links to Her Name Loses Yahoo Infringement Suit"

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