in a war of words
...Dariot, a mathematician
turned Internet entrepreneur, is an even more unlikely standard-bearer
for a series of proliferating lawsuits and legal disputes that challenge
Google's sacrosanct business routines.
"Google is a giant, but they cannot dictate the law," said
Dariot, 41, a chief executive in a casual sweater and denim who took
on the international company with some inspiration, he said, from independent
French icons like Joan of Arc who were not afraid to challenge authority.
This month, Dariot triumphed in his year-and-a-half-old lawsuit against
Google's French subsidiary, which has been ordered to pay him €75,000,
or $97,000, in fines and legal costs. Dariot and his travel companies,
Luteciel and Viaticum, successfully challenged Google's practice of
selling Internet advertising from rivals designed to appear with Web
searches for his trademarked Web site name, Bourse des Vols, which means
Keyword advertising, as it is known, is the main source of revenue for
Google, which posted $3.19 billion in sales in 2004, largely through
charges of a few cents each time a user clicks on an ad.
The growing number of lawsuits against Google around the world could
diminish that advertising revenue by reducing the number of search words
that could be sold to competitors - a threat to Google's business model
that the company has acknowledged in regulatory filings.
Dariot's company is one of the first to win against Google; similar
cases in the United States and Germany that challenged the search engine's
use of keywords have failed.
But more companies are piling on. France is home to as many as 15 cases,
according to lawyers involved.
Elsewhere, other companies are pressing Google with varying results
on different legal points.
The Associated Press in New York and Kyodo News Agency in Tokyo have
been negotiating with Google in connection with what they contend is
its unauthorized use of material from the two news services.
Agence France-Presse, which had been talking to Google for almost six
months in the same kind of dispute, sued the search engine in France
in February and in the United States this month for $17.5 million in
"The core issue is the same," said Joshua Kaufman, AFP's lawyer
in Washington. "Google is using AFP pictures and stories without
authorization in violation of copyright."
The keyword lawsuits have been filed by companies ranging from the hotel
chain Accor to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the luxury goods
manufacturer, which in February won its case. Keyword advertising is
particularly sensitive for luxury retailers because manufacturers of
knockoffs and counterfeits could advertise alongside trademarked names.
That has quietly changed in France, where rival advertising has been
eliminated on Google's French Web site next to search results for prominent
brand perfumes like Dior or Chanel. Yet similar advertising still surfaces
with the same brand names on Google's Web sites in Britain and Germany.
Asked about those international differences in advertising from rivals,
Google's spokeswoman in France, Myriam Boublil, said: "I can't
really get into technical specifics. What I can tell you is that it
was necessary to take down when a trademark issue is raised in France.
Companies get back to us and let us know, and then we take it down."
She said that it was likely that companies had raised the trademark
issue in some countries but not others.
Google itself is keenly aware of the perils of its keywords policy,
which took effect in the spring of 2004 in the United States and Canada.
Basically, Google abandoned its policy of screening for trademarks when
companies choose keywords for its popular advertising program, a gamble
that could increase revenue but, as the company acknowledged, could
also create legal problems.
According to Google's Web site: "When we receive a complaint from
a trademark owner, we will only investigate whether the advertisements
at issue are using the trademarked term in ad text. If they are, we
will require the advertiser to remove the trademarked term from the
text of the ad and prevent the advertiser from using the trademarked
term in ad text in the future."
In Dariot's case, that meant that if users searched for his trademarked
name, "Bourse des Vols," rival advertising would emerge alongside
the name of his Web site.
In a Google filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission,
the company admitted that the new policy could lead to more legal attacks.
"Adverse results in these lawsuits," it said, "may result
in, or even compel, a change in this practice, which could result in
a loss of revenue for us, which could harm our business."
When companies do try to raise complaints about trademark or copyright
issues, some complain that the issues can drag for months or even years.
In a recent California case, Norm Zada, the chief executive and founder
of Perfect 10, a publisher of nude photographs and adult material based
in Beverly Hills, said he started sending legal notices to Google about
the unauthorized use of his images in 2001.
"After 16 notices, they said they couldn't do anything," Zada
Since then, he said, his attorney has issued a blizzard of 44 notices
in the past two years that covered 9,000 unauthorized images. In January,
he sued Google in U.S. court in Los Angeles.
Dariot, the owner of the French online travel agency, said that he also
had resorted to a lawsuit out of frustration that his complaints were
largely being ignored. Other search engines, he said, responded to similar
complaints and withdrew rival advertising.
"First, Google said to give them proof of the trademark, and I
did," he said. "And then a month passed. And then two more
months passed and two more. Nothing happened."
Now, when a Google search is conducted for his company name, Bourse
des Vols, the right side of the screen is as empty as the white sand
beaches in the ads for vacation packages that he sells online. Google
still can appeal Dariot's judicial victory. The French subsidiary's
spokeswoman, Boublil, said last week that "for the moment Google
is thinking of appealing, but I haven't gotten any confirmation yet."
Dariot's attorney, Cyril Fabre, is not waiting. He said he already had
four other cases against Google, including one on behalf of Hotels Méridien.
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