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