Internet Law

Law firm's hijacked keywords not a privacy violation, appeals court says

  • Print.

A Wisconsin law firm has failed to win reinstatement of a lawsuit that claims its right to privacy was violated by a competitor’s purchase of advertising-driven search-engine keywords.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld dismissal of the suit filed by personal injury law firm Habush Habush & Rottier, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Proof & Hearsay blog.

According to the suit, Cannon & Dunphy had paid Google, Yahoo and Bing to display sponsored ads for Cannon & Dunphy when Internet users searched for “Habush” or “Rottier.” Habush had claimed the purchase violated a Wisconsin privacy law that barred advertisers from using “the name, portrait or picture of any living person” without consent.

The appeals court found that the Wisconsin privacy law was not intended to cover such use of keywords. “Locating an advertisement or business near an established competitor to take advantage of the flow of potential customers or clients to the established business is not a practice the legislature intended to prohibit,” the court wrote in its opinion. “Furthermore, we fail to discern a meaningful distinction between competitors simply selecting locations in proximity to each other and using a third party to obtain the same result.”

Habush issued a statement saying it expected to seek review with the Wisconsin Supreme Court, according to the Proof & Hearsay blog. Milwaukee lawyer J. Ric Gass, who represented Cannon & Dunphy, issued a statement saying the decision “effectively brings attorney advertising into the modern era.”

Updated at 12:35 p.m. to include a statement by lawyer J. Ric Gass.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.