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Can SEO companies be held responsible for counterfeit by their clients? Yes says judge

28 March 2011 BY

Imagine this: a client comes up to you asking you to build them a new e-commerce website. Let’s say they are selling golf clubs. However, it turns out that the golfclubs were counterfeits, illegal copies of trademarked goods. Is that your problem?

No says an SEO company in the US, but yes, says judge Margaret B. Seymour of the U.S. District Court for South Carolina. She says the company “Bright Builders” was “guilty of contributory trademark infringement and unfair trade practices for allegedly assisting in the construction and hosting of the e-commerce site CopyCatClubs.com.

And here comes the add on: the original owner of the website was fined $28,250. The company which build and SEO-ed the website however was ordered to pay $770,750 in statutory damages. Wow.

The company was originally sued by Cleveland Golf, which claims to have the trademark on the goods which were sold on the website (the site is no longer running, but you can see the archive.org page here). They first ‘only’ went after the site owners but then also aimed their guns at the webcompany.

Christopher Finnerty, one of the lawyers for Cleveland Golf, says:

“The jury found that web hosts and SEO’s cannot rely solely on third parties to police their web sites and provide actual notice of counterfeit sales from the brand owners. Even prior to notification from a third party, Internet intermediaries must be proactive to stop infringing sales when they knew or should have known that these illegal sales were occurring through one of the web sites they host.”

I would personally say that the url “CopyCatClubs” says it all, you cannot get any ‘real’ stuff there, but apparently the judge thinks otherwise. The question remains: should you be held responsible for this? I do believe you should look at your clients carefully and make sure you don’t participate in illegal matters. But this fine seems kind of high, especially if you look at the fine the site owner got. What is your take on this?

AUTHORED BY:
h

Bas van den Beld is a speaker, trainer and online marketing strategist. Bas is the founder of Stateofdigital.com. -- You can hire Bas to speak, train or consult.
  • http://merchboer.nl Richard

    Can I still get the cheap clubs somewhere? :)

    (on a more serious note)

    A discussion can be held about the height of the fines, but if you engage in bootlegging, you should be punished. As simple as that.

    “we are your one stop shop for the best copied golf equipment on the Internet.” == pay up biatch.

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  • http://www.rbi.co.uk maurice

    well they constructed the site but this is a very dodgy area and quite how do you get fined for “allegedly assisting” what happened to “burden of proof”

    the hosting industry probably need to fund the appeal for this – presumably “Bright Builders” will declare bankruptcy and if I where ceo I would have my now unemployed staff protest outside the court and call the tv cameras and spin it as out of touch judge puts honest americans out of work.

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