Bidding on the name of a competitor firm to obtain a sponsored link above the competitor in a Google search does not violate Wisconsin’s privacy law

Under Wisconsin law use of a person’s name for advertising purposes without the person’s consent violates the right of privacy.  In Rottier, v. Cannon, 828 N.W.2d 876 (WI Ct. App. 2013), rev. denied, 839 N.W.2d 616 (2013), the defendant law firm purchased the names of the plaintiffs from Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. Whenever a searcher entered the names of the plaintiffs, the defendant’s sponsored link would appear above the plaintiffs’ organic link in the search results. The plaintiffs sued claiming that the defendants conduct violated Wisconsin privacy law.  The state court of appeals held for the defendants. It found that the defendants’ conduct did not amount to a “use” under the statute because the defendants’ did not make a public use of the plaintiffs’ names.  The court analogized the situation to one in which a business moves its operation near to that of a competitor in order to obtain some of the competitor’s traffic. The court did not decide whether the defendant’s conduct violated federal trademark law because it found the argument to be “insufficiently developed.”


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