STAYART v. YAHOO! (September 30, 2010)
Beverly Stayart sounds like a bit of a renaissance woman. Self-described as "sophisticated, well-educated, and highly intelligent," she has a University of Chicago M.B.A, engages in humanitarian efforts in support of baby seals and wolves and wild horses, researches genealogy, has published scholarly papers on the Internet, and writes poetry. One day, she conducted a Yahoo! Search on her own name. That search, and others that followed, produced troubling results. In addition to the links about herself and her activities, she found links to pharmaceutical companies, pornographic websites, and much more. She demanded that Yahoo! remove the offensive links. Yahoo! declined. Stayart brought suit alleging a violation of § 43(a) of the Lanham Act. Judge Randa (E.D. Wis.) dismissed the complaint on the grounds that she had no commercial interest in her name. Stayart appeals.
In their opinion, Circuit Judges Manion and Williams and District Judge Darrah affirmed. The Court noted that Stayart did not challenge the well-established rule that § 43(a) requires a showing of commercial interest. Instead, she argued that her extensive and varied activities and presence on the Internet established a commercial interest in her name. The Court disagreed. Section 43(a) is a remedy for a commercial plaintiff who seeks to protect its commercial interest. Stayart's activities may be laudable -- they are not commercial.