Facebook won two legal victories recently, with a California federal judge dismissing a class action suit against the company and an Illinois judge denying a motion to dismiss a trademark suit brought by Facebook against site Teachbook.
In the California case, parents alleged that the social networking site used the names and images of minors for advertisements without first getting parental permission in violation of state law. The Complaint alleges that while the site encourages children to participate on the site and to “like” products and services, it then markets their names and likenesses, generating significant revenue for Facebook.
But California state judge Debre K. Weintraub dismissed the suit, leaving the plaintiffs 20 days to amend their complaint.
“Plaintiffs’ claims based on state law for Facebook’s alleged failure to obtain the parental consent of users aged 13 to 17 to the commercial use of their name and likeness is preempted by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act,” she wrote.
Facebook also had success in Illinois federal court, where it filed a lawsuit against Teachbook, a social networking site specifically targeted at teachers. Facebook alleged that the site is “trading on the fame” of the Facebook mark and touting itself as a substitute for Facebook, as many schools prohibit teachers from joining Facebook so as to avoid interaction with students.
Teachbook contended that the only similarity between the sites was the suffix “–BOOK,” which is a generic mark, not sufficiently distinctive to merit trademark protection.
U.S. District Court Judge Marvin E. Aspen agreed with Facebook that its rights were based on more than just the “-BOOK” suffix, and found that the aggregate effect of the term “Facebook” gave the mark its distinctiveness.
“And given the ubiquity Facebook claims its mark has achieved, one could reasonably infer that the choice of the Teachbook mark – which, like the Facebook mark, is a curt, two-syllable conjunction of otherwise unremarkable words – to offer a similar service in the same medium was not accident,” Judge Aspen wrote.
The court also found it likely that consumers – particularly teachers – could be confused by the Teachbook site. Given “textual and aural similarities between the marks . . . it is reasonable to infer that someone browsing the internet might understand Teachbook to be ‘in some way related to, or connected or affiliated with, or sponsored by’ Facebook.”
Although Teachbook pointed to language on its site that it argued distinguished the site from Facebook – by referencing the fact that some schools forbid teachers to use Facebook – Judge Aspen said that teachers might think Teachbook is Facebook’s response to such actions.
“In light of such policies, a reasonable consumer might assume that Facebook was offering social networking services targeted specifically at teachers and addressing the privacy concerns at which the schools’ policies are apparently aimed. The same consumer might further assume that Facebook, in order to draw on its famous name, decided to call that service Teachbook,” he wrote, refusing to dismiss the suit.
To read the court’s order dismissing the Cohen suit, click here.
To read the court’s opinion in Facebook v. Teachbook, click here.
Why it matters: With suits similar to the California case filed across the country, the dismissal of the class action bodes well for Facebook. And the court’s decision in the Teachbook case shores up Facebook’s argument that its trademark is distinctive and will survive legal challenges.