April 1, 2010 – In the early days of internet marketing, search engines were less sophisticated and only looked at keywords or meta tags hidden deep within website code. Many companies claimed to be able to boost your internet presence in mere seconds by selling you a ‘package’ of keywords. These packages were lists of hundreds of generic words that were (hopefully) relevant to your industry, inserted into your website’s hidden header code so they would lead search engines to post your page higher on the search rankings.
Times have changed and search engines have evolved to ‘crawling’ websites, making sure that the keywords found in their site header are also accurately represented in the body of the website’s content. However, some companies still list “Search Engine Optimization” (SEO) and consider a 200-word keyword list as doing just that. This practice can lead to misleading keywords – and in the case of two Wisconsin personal injury law firms – an escalating legal battle.
The law firms of Habush, Habush & Rottier SC and Cannon & Dunphy SC have been locked in legal battles since last November when Habush brought suit against Cannon for allegedly purchasing the names “Habush” and “Rottier” as keywords for their website. Their claim states that by purchasing these keywords they hijacked the names and reputation of HH&B, potentially drawing advertising away from their firm.
Companies like Google and Yahoo have paid sponsored ads that allow a business to appear featured prominently on searches with their suggested keywords. False use of another company’s name in ads such as these would be considered a trademark issue, but use of keywords in the hidden header code or metadata is a grey area. In the past, many underhanded marketing strategies have revolved around company websites placing competitors’ names or product names/numbers in their keywords, causing their own site to appear in searches for the competition.
C&D filed a motion to dismiss the case brought against them by HH&R, claiming that HH&R engaged in similar practices, but a Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge ruled the primary partners of HH&R, Robert Habush and Daniel Rottier, could continue the lawsuit as individuals defending the unsolicited use of their last names. This makes an interesting case, as they are claiming a violation of Wisconsin’s privacy statue 995.50(2)(b) which states that someone’s name cannot be used for advertising purposes without written consent, and not trademark law as is common with these cases.
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