Online marketing for lawyers is becoming an increasingly hot-button issue, but for a couple of personal injury lawyers it has boiled over into a major fight in the online ad market.

The Wisconsin lawyers had used online ads with Google, Bing and Yahoo! to bid on their former partners names in order to generate sponsored ads at the top of the relevant pages.  The lawyers, William Cannon and Patrick Dunphy would have their firm name, Cannon & Dunphy appear as a sponsored link when online searchers typed in their former partners names.

It was the former partners who became upset at losing the use of their own names online and a lawsuit was filed in 2009. The former partners claimed privacy rights to their own names, which were bid on for the online ads without their permission.

However, the Wisconsin appeals court has given Cannon & Dunphy a legal break, saying the names of the former partners were only in computer code and searchers were unable to see the names and so there was no violation of the former partners’ privacy.

“In every case brought to our attention by the parties and discovered in the course of our own research, the ‘use’ of the name or image at issue was a visible part of some sort of promotion or product,” wrote Justice P.J. Lundsten in a 17-page ruling issued in late February.

Similar ad-search-term battles have already entangled high-profile companies. Last October language-learning company Rosetta Stone settled a lawsuit against Google and jewelry distributor Hearts on Fire settled its case against the online jewelry seller Blue Nile.

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  • Michael Ehline
    March 12, 2013


  • Steven Sweat
    March 12, 2013

    I think using someone else’s name or likeness for financial gain should be actionable.

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