Brand Protection Online: Do(n’t) Google Ads Constitute Commercial Use Of A Trademark On Gripe Sites?
It is legal to register a trademarked domain and publish a website on the domain if it is non-commercial in nature–think review sites, gripe sites, fan sites. An example would be Walmartwatch.com, a Wal-Mart gripe site published by Five Stones and The Center for Community and Corporate Ethics.
But what happens when a gripe site publishes Google ads to generate revenue? How can this be considered non-commercial when the unauthorized party is leveraging the IP assets of another entity, in a disparaging way, to generate revenue? There’s a lot of gray here.
What constitutes commercial use? What doesn’t?
Let’s review an example. The screenshot below displays a search on Google for “University of Phoenix.” Note the highlighted gripe site, UOPSucks.com, ranking in the brand real estate of University of Phoenix.
The screenshot below display the home page of the gripe site:
How do I know the highlighted ads are Google ads? Below is a screenshot of the source code with the Google script highlighted.
If common sense prevails, it won’t be legal to monetize a gripe site through ad revenue.