Trademark law and non-commercial web publishing
By WORLDLawDirect [October 15th, 2012]
Many companies claim trademark infringement or dilution when pursuing unauthorized uses of their names or logos on the Web — but it's not entirely clear how these laws apply to noncommercial activity on the Net.
Trademark law has important implications for Web publishing.
A trademark is a word, term, name, symbol, or device that distinguishes the goods or services of one company from those of another company — such as Microsoft Windows. In the United States, the Lanham Act protects trademarks (trademarks must be registered in other countries in order to have international protection).
Trademark Infringement and Dilution
The Lanham Act says you're infringing a trademark if you use it in connection with goods or services in a way that is likely to cause confusion about the origin of these goods or services, their sponsorship, or their approval. The key test of infringement is whether buyers are likely to be confused, and it generally applies in cases involving some commercial activity.
The Lanham Act was amended in 1996 by the Federal Anti-Dilution Act, which prohibits the use of another company's trademark if the use would "dilute the distinctive quality" of the mark. Trademark dilution can occur even if there isn't any likelihood of confusion, and regardless of whether there is competition between the two parties. However, there are three exceptions under which trademarks can be used: fair use in comparative advertising, in noncommercial use, and in news reporting or commentary.
Many companies claim trademark infringement or dilution when pursuing unauthorized uses of their names or logos on the Web — but it's not entirely clear how these laws apply to noncommercial activity on the Net. Many attorneys argue that this is currently a gray area, but the use of another company's logo on a noncommercial page could be considered trademark infringement. Fair use as applied to trademarks is usually more strictly enforced than it is in regards to copyright.