Internet Law

United Sues Over Customer Complaint Website Design; Operator Calls Blog an Obvious Parody

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Disclaimer from the blog

A major airline has sued a Canadian engineering professor in his home country, contending that the 15-year-old website on which he compiles customer and employee complaints violates its intellectual property rights and worker privacy.

United Continental Holdings only sued after owner Jeremy Cooperstock reworked his blog in April to look more like United’s redesigned site, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Those who currently log onto Cooperstock’s site are greeted with a pop-up message headlined “This is not the website of United Airlines.”

It continues, “This site exists only because of the airline’s outright hostility toward its passengers and many of its employees,” and requires users to click a green “I understand” button to proceed.

In a statement posted on the site, which also links to copies of the United court complaints against him on a separate page, Cooperstock calls them strategic suits against public participation (otherwise known as SLAPP suits) and seeks donations to his legal defense fund.

Both of the United suits were filed Nov. 19. A Canadian federal court action for alleged copyright and trademark infringement contends that the site causes confusion by misappropriating its all-caps UNITED logo and a globe design that Continental uses as a trademark.

“The Plaintiffs are not seeking to prevent the Defendant from operating a website where individuals can express their views about Plaintiffs,” the statement of claim says. “Rather, Plaintiffs are requesting the relief above”–a declaratory judgment of infringement, injunctive relief and damages–“in order to protect their intellectual property rights and prevent consumer confusion over whether Plaintiffs own and/or sponsor Defendant’s website.” The complaint says United repeated asked Cooperstock to stop using its marks before suing.

A separate motion (PDF) seeks injunctive relief in Quebec Superior Court.

The Tribune reports that Cooperstock, who teaches at McGill University in Montreal, says he thinks the suit is indeed intended to put a chill on his publication of information critical of the airline.

Particularly since he recently installed the pop-up window, “No reasonable person would possibly confuse my page with United’s own page,” he told the newspaper, calling his site design an obvious parody of United’s own site.

“They are trying to shut down my site instead of dealing with their problems,” said Cooperstock. “If they had put as much effort into improving their service as into these SLAPP suits, there’d be no reason for the website.”

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