Tuesday, February 03, 2015

230 defeats false advertising claim against search engines

Baldino’s Lock & Key Service, Inc. v. Google, Inc., No. 1:14-cv-00636 (E.D. Va. Jan. 27, 2015)
Defendants Yellowbook and Ziplocal provide online search engines for businesses, allowing search by type of service and geographic area.  Baldino’s is a Washington Metro area locksmith and security company, with the required licenses in Maryland and Virginia.  The internet resulted in a drastic decrease in revenue for Baldino’s, which it attributes to advertising of unlicensed and illegal locksmiths.  In 2014, for example, a Google directory search produced results for 1000 locksmiths in Virginia, but only 325 were listed as licensed; other defendants produced similar results.  Baldino’s sued for RICO violations and false advertising.
The court found §230 immunity.  The exception for violation of federal criminal law failed because Baldino’s failed to adequately plead RICO violations.  (I thought the exception just protected the feds, rather than preserving civil claims identical to potential criminal claims.) 
And the exception for IP didn’t apply because Baldino’s failed to adequately plead a violation of the Lanham Act.  (Apparently treating false advertising as an IP claim.)  Baldino’s failed to plead that the defendants made a false or misleading description of fact; the falsity came from the unlicensed and illegal locksmiths.  “To hold Defendants liable for misinformation appearing on their websites, which originated with third parties, is a drastic conclusion the Court declines to endorse. The Court believes the market incentive for Defendants to provide correct information to consumers is a better tool for accuracy than the Lanham Act.”

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