Google not liable for vanity search results - U.S. court

Wed Mar 6, 2013 11:01pm IST

An illustration picture shows a woman holding her Apple Ipad tablet which displays a tactile keyboard under the Google home page in Bordeaux, Southwestern France, February 4, 2013. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

An illustration picture shows a woman holding her Apple Ipad tablet which displays a tactile keyboard under the Google home page in Bordeaux, Southwestern France, February 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Regis Duvignau

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REUTERS - A Wisconsin woman trying to protect her "wholesome" image failed to persuade a federal appeals court to hold Google Inc (GOOG.O) liable because searches for her name could lead people to advertisements for drugs to treat sexual dysfunction.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said on Wednesday Beverly Stayart did not show that Google violated Wisconsin privacy laws by misusing her name to generate advertising revenue.

Stayart claimed that a search for "bev stayart" on the world's largest search engine generates a recommended search for "bev stayart levitra," which can direct users to websites that offer treatments for male erectile dysfunction.

The Elkhorn, Wisconsin resident said this was at odds with her "positive and wholesome image" linked to her advocacy for animal rights, her research in genealogy, her published poems and her MBA degree from the University of Chicago.

But a three-judge appeals court panel said Google's alleged improper use of Stayart's name fell within the "public interest" and "incidental use" exceptions to Wisconsin's misappropriation laws, either of which would doom the lawsuit.

Circuit Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote that the search "bev stayart levitra" was a matter of public interest because Stayart had made it one by suing Google, and by previously suing rival Yahoo Inc (YHOO.O) over similar claims, which she lost.

Williams also said that nothing in Stayart's lawsuit suggested a "substantial rather than incidental" link between her name and Google's effort to use it to generate revenue.

Stayart's lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The decision took the 7th Circuit more than 11 months after oral arguments to issue. It upheld a March 2011 ruling by U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman in Milwaukee.

Bayer AG (BAYGn.DE) and GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK.L) sell Levitra, also known by its chemical name, vardenafil.

The case is Stayart v. Google Inc, 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 11-03012.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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