A federal appeals court has dismissed a Wisconsin woman’s lawsuit against Google Inc. alleging that it was using her name to generate revenue through online advertising.
Beverly Stayart, of Elkhorn, alleged that if someone started typing in a Google search for her name, Bev Stayart, the search engine offered “Bev Stayart levitra” as one search term. Accepting that suggestion led to ads for Levitra and other treatments for erectile dysfunction, she said.
She alleged that Google was making money by using her name without her permission.
The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago threw out the lawsuit, ruling that Google had done nothing wrong, according to a Janesville Gazette report.
A lower-court judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2011. District Judge Lynn Adelman wrote that Stayart’s name had no commercial value and that Google receives no value from the connection between her name and sexual-dysfunction medications.
Wisconsin law protects against the unauthorized commercial exploitation of a person’s name. However, the connection between the name and the commercial interest has to be substantial, not incidental, Adelman said.
She also wrote that it wasn’t illegal for Google to use someone’s name for the purpose of communicating information.
“The fact that a user queries plaintiff’s name and the phrase `bev stayart levitra’ pops up indicates only that other websites and users have connected plaintiff’s name with Levitra,” Adelman wrote.
Stayart argued that she’s renowned as a leader in the animal-rights movement and as a genealogy scholar, and that her name has significant commercial value.
The Seventh Circuit Court said Stayart’s name had become a matter of public interest because of her lawsuit and a previously dismissed lawsuit against Yahoo Inc. That constitutes an exception to the law under which she sued, the court wrote.
“Even if Google’s use of her name were substantial, it would still be entitled to the public interest exception,” the opinion said.
Stayart said the decision was “economically driven.” She accused the court of ignoring the law in favor of big businesses and said she’d ask for the appeal to be heard again.
Google did not immediately respond to a Gazette request for comment.