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Google's selective censorship

Google removed ads condemning MoveOn.org's ad in The New York Times attacking General David H. Petraeus, claiming a trademark violation. This blatant act of political protection has exacted a collective yawn from Old Media, predictably enough. From The Washington DC Examiner Newspaper:


Here are the facts: Lance Dutson, a Maine blogger working for the re-election campaign of Sen. Susan Collins, recently placed two political ads on Google on behalf of the Maine Republican. The pro-Collins ads were critical of MoveOn.org's recent "General Betray Us" insertion in The New York Times and claimed MoveOn.org was targeting Collins for defeat. Shortly thereafter, the ads disappeared, and Dutson was told by a Google representative that they were removed because they violated MoveOn.org's trademark.

Then last week, The Examiner published an oped by Robert Cox, a member of the newspaper's blogger board, that questioned why Google would suppress an ad at the apparent request of MoveOn.org, yet allow ads critical of corporations like ExxonMobil, Wal-Mart and Microsoft. The Cox oped was linked to by the Drudge Report, Instapundit, Slashdot and Michelle Malkin among online media, and by Fox News on cable.

Google claims its policy is to stay out of trademark disputes by removing any ad that is judged by the trademark holder to be a violation. Aside from questions about ideological bias or inconsistency in how Google enforces its policy, a more fundamental issue is at stake here -- enabling abuse of a commercial trademark as a means of squelching dissident political speech.

On its face, a policy that allows censorship of political speech critical of the trademark holder is a violation of the First Amendment. If Google maintains this policy, it will be handing a powerful tool for crushing dissent not only to political groups like MoveOn.org but to every corporation with a trademarked name.


Read the rest at the link above. They don't remove ads attacking the "Wal-Mart" trademark, because the mere mention of a trademarked name doesn't constitute an infringement. Neither did the ads attacking MoveOn.org.

If anything, Wal-Mart and other purely commercial enterprises are more deserving of trademark protection than MoveOn, which is a registered "multi-candidate Political Action Committee." To claim one cannot even mention the name of a PAC which has inserted itself into the news, claims influence with policymakers and legislators at the highest levels of the Democratic Party, and publicly admits purchasing the ad in question, without their permission, is a laughable position.

Suppose the Republican nominee trademarks his own name. Will Google then refuse any ads which mention him - through the campaign and, if he is elected, throughout his term? Right.

On the bright side, of course, the leftists running Google can count on continuing invitations to the very best cocktail parties.


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Comments (38)

My understanding is that an... (Below threshold)
Rance:

My understanding is that any trademark holder can ask Google to refuse ad which contain their trademark. If Wal Mart wants Google to remove ads which contain their trademark, all they have to do is request it.

As far as the ads critical of MoveOn.org, they've received enough publicity that the Collins campaign can blast them with using the tracemark.

It would probably serve the public better if the ad money were spent to advance/explain Collins positions rather than simply saying "MoveOn Bad, We're not them."

Lance Dutson liveblogged on... (Below threshold)
kim:

Lance Dutson liveblogged one week of the Libby trial and got to see the NBC chicanery live. His blog, Mainewebreport, is also where I liveblogged the livebloggers.

He might be able to make trouble about this google nonsense. He's pretty persistent.
============================================

Just watched FoxNews where ... (Below threshold)
jpm100:

Just watched FoxNews where Google supposedly reversed its policy about claiming trademark infringement for ads critical of them.

If you want to read Google'... (Below threshold)
Rance:

If you want to read Google's explanation of its trademark policy, it is posted here:

http://googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.com/2007/10/our-advertising-policies-and-political.html

Rance:My under... (Below threshold)
marc:

Rance:

My understanding is that any trademark holder can ask Google to refuse ad which contain their trademark. If Wal Mart wants Google to remove ads which contain their trademark, all they have to do is request it.

Horse Hockey!

MorOn.org can claim it all they want but they'd lose the butt in a court of law. Fair Use covers both copyright and trademarks.

The Lanham Act permits a non-owner of a registered trademark to make "fair use" or "nominative use" of a trademark under certain circumstances without obtaining permission from the mark's owner.

MorOn.org is blowing smoke and the loonbats at Google are sucking it in.

Not surprising considering some of the antics they've pulled over right-wing blogs NOT selected for Google News VS who they have selected on the "left side"

Yes, marc, I think there is... (Below threshold)
kim:

Yes, marc, I think there is political perversion at google. I don't know what the solution is.
================

marc,Googles posit... (Below threshold)
Rance:

marc,

Googles position is a logical one to take in response to the safe-harbor provision of the DMCA.

When take-down request made, the standard procedure is to take the material in question down. The Collins campaign has the right to appeal the take-down request to get the material replaced.

As far as political motivation, do you think that Google looks at individual ads? They have filter software that looks for forbidden text and removes material that is on its list.

The question is does the campaign want to run the ad, or do they want to complain that they are being abused. If they really want to get there message out, unless their ad writers are totally lame, they can get the message out without including the trademark. For years Madison Avenue wrote ads that attacked the competitors without mentioning them by name. Everybody knew who they were talking about.

They might start out with something like "The same partisan hacks the attacked the patriotism of our soldiers in Iraq are now attacking Senator Susan Collins. The Collins campaign stands behind our troops and here is why..."

Rance, thank you for the li... (Below threshold)

Rance, thank you for the link. Now if you would please read the comment by Robert Cox at October 13, 2007 10:00 AM. It puts a little kink in Google's response. According to Mr. Cox, Google reps couldn't seem to settle on a reason for why the ad was removed.

This, coupled with the fact that they claimed Google news selections were automated when it was finally discovered that there was considerable manual intervention, leaves me to assume collaboration and complicity played a larger role in the ad's removal. Add to that their willingness to cave to China's censorship and I believe that we have a valid reason to criticize them. Oh, and do a Google search to see just how much Google has contributed to Moveon.

Oyster,I guessing ... (Below threshold)
Rance:

Oyster,

I guessing since you made the assertion that Google is financing MoveOn, you have already done the search and have the numbers at hand. You can save us all the time by posting them.

I suspect the bias is manua... (Below threshold)
kim:

I suspect the bias is manual and automated. We are living in a manipulated age.
========================================

"I suspect the bias is manu... (Below threshold)
Rance:

"I suspect the bias is manual and automated. We are living in a manipulated age."

I find that hard to believe from a purely technical point-of-view.

In order to automate a bias of the type suggested in the Collins v. MoveOn case, the filtering program would not only have to recognize the "MoveOn.org" trademark, it would have to be able to be determine whether or not the trademark was bing used in a context where it was pro-MoveOn or anti-MoveOn.

It's possible that Google has AI programs that are capable of doing that and that they are being used for that purpose, but I tend to doubt that. Google is a business and the expense involved doesn't translate well to the bottom line.

So, you can tell me what th... (Below threshold)
kim:

So, you can tell me what the bottom line is?
============================================

Rance,I am more th... (Below threshold)

Rance,

I am more than a little surprised to read your comments here in which you attempt to pass off absolutely false statements as if you had some actual knowledge of the matter.

Why don't you try READING my article on Examiner.com which broke this story, visit the MaineWebReport and view the ads and the chat transcript between Google and the Collins campaign and then read the Google Policy Blog. Then MAYBE you can add something useful to the discussion.

If you would do your homework you would know that this is a "trademark infringement" case not a copyright case so DMCA take-downs have NOTHING to do with this case. Also, there is no "right to appeal" Google's decision to remove the ads. Google is a private company and their policy specifically precludes any "appeals" as is clear from the chat transcript posted on MWR.

The issue here is not MoveOn or Senator Collins but that the dominant player in online media has a policy that allows ANY trademark owner to ban ANY use of their trademark including any LEGAL and FAIR use of their name (i.e. "non-infringing nominative use").

If I need to EXPLAIN the implications for the First Amendment then my time is wasted here.

This is simple. Google has a very bad corporate policy, one that runs counter to the values they claim to espouse, and they need to change that policy.

"The issue here is not Move... (Below threshold)
Rance:

"The issue here is not MoveOn or Senator Collins but that the dominant player in online media has a policy that allows ANY trademark owner to ban ANY use of their trademark including any LEGAL and FAIR use of their name (i.e. "non-infringing nominative use")."

Not ANY use, just use in an advertisement.

And sorry, but the issue here is whether the campaign can get more publicity and more political mileage out of the controversy or not.

The campaign could have edited the ad,so it conveyed the same message and resubmitted it without the trademark. But then they wouldn't have had a reason to complain about how big, bad, MoveOn and big business had conspired to keep them down.

If I need to EXPLAIN the... (Below threshold)
mantis:

If I need to EXPLAIN the implications for the First Amendment then my time is wasted here.

Please explain the implications for the First Amendment, because the editors at your employer don't seem to understand them. To wit,

On its face, a policy that allows censorship of political speech critical of the trademark holder is a violation of the First Amendment.

Which is, of course, absurd. I don't think I need to quote the First Amendment here, but I am curious why the Examiner editors are under the impression that Google is a government institution. The First Amendment does not require that private companies or individuals do anything.

But you state here that "Google has a bad corporate policy," implying that you don't believe this to be a First Amendment issue at all. In your column you note,

Ronald Coleman, a lawyer and leading expert on online intellectual property disputes, noted that, as a private company, Google has the right to treat different advertisers differently.

So do you care to clear up your statements and tell us whether you think that Google's policies rise to the level of government interference in free speech, and if so, how? If not, how is this a First Amendment issue at all?

Btw, MoveOn has reversed its position and rescinded its objection to the use of their trademark in Google Ads.

So how about the policy run... (Below threshold)
kim:

So how about the policy running counter to the values they espouse, mantis?
========================

Well, I'm not saying I agre... (Below threshold)
mantis:

Well, I'm not saying I agree with the policy; I do think its a bit broad. On the other hand, I think its understandable considering the volume of ads that Google has to process. If they were to tighten the policy to one in which they only pulled ads (or required they be changed) when a trademark holder could show either cause of action or show reason by another (presumably) less stringent metric, it would cost the company a considerable amount of time and money to investigate and determine the validity of each claim. By allowing trademark holders to determine whether they want their trademark in others' ads, they simplify the process, and save on legal fees. I know its hard to imagine that a business would make such decisions based on anything but politics, but...wait, no it's not.

In any case, how does this policy run counter to what values? I await you're cryptically non-explanatory response.

Naw, you explain, unsophist... (Below threshold)
kim:

Naw, you explain, unsophistically, why google is politically biased.
======================================

If I thought that Rance and... (Below threshold)

If I thought that Rance and Mantis were interested in a substantive discussion of the issues I might ask them to imagine a world where ALL media companies adopted Google's trademark policy and think a little about the implications for that on "free speech" in this country.

I might also point that while I cannot answer for OTHER PEOPLE'S editorials they might find their answers vis-a-vis the Examiner editorial from Monday by educating themselves on the "interstate commerce clause" of the Constitution and taking note that Google's is doing business across state lines.

Or they can just keep blathering away and trying to sound like they know what they are talking about which I am sure is far less work and much more fun.

Robert Cox,1. You ... (Below threshold)
Rance:

Robert Cox,

1. You are mistaking editorial content with paid advertising. There is a difference.

2. Google is a corporate entity. They control what will go on their site. Constitutionality has nothing to do with it.

3. Do you think that other media allows anybody to use their business to post opinions?

4. Are you implying that the government can punish Google under the interstate commerce clause for not accepting advertising?

So you don't care to elabor... (Below threshold)
mantis:

So you don't care to elaborate on the "implications for the First Amendment?"

they might find their answers vis-a-vis the Examiner editorial from Monday by educating themselves on the "interstate commerce clause" of the Constitution

What does the interstate commerce clause have to do with the First Amendment and Google?

I might ask them to imagine a world where ALL media companies adopted Google's trademark policy and think a little about the implications for that on "free speech" in this country.

Ok, I've imagined it. What a fun little trip to the land of imagination that was. Can we get back to discussing reality?

First of all, private media companies which do not use public airwaves are free to print or not print whatever they want (subject to libel laws, etc., of course). That's what the First Amendment is all about. Second, what would happen to "free speech" (why the quotes?) if media companies removed trademarked terms from advertisements, or the advertisements themselves, at the request of the trademark holder? Guess what? They already do! Oh wait, you didn't bother to look at the policies of other companies, did you?

Good luck on your crusade against the evil Google beast.

Rance,I am not "mi... (Below threshold)

Rance,

I am not "mistaking" anything. If you care to read my piece from last week you will see quite clearly that it notes that Google, as a private company, is free to discriminate, as it sees fit. As for the editorial written by SOMEONE ELSE let me suggest you go to them on thatl I am just indicating what I understood to be the based for the line you cited from that editorial. That person can defend their POV themselves.

Nowhere am I saying that Google is legally required to accept ads.

Let's keep it simple, OK?

What I am concerned with is that Google had a bad policy, one that is inconsistent with both the values they profess to espouse, the arguments they have put forward in the net neutrality debate and the briefs they filed regarding trademark on keywords. I agree that Google may have legitimate business reasons for having this policy. What they are bumping up against is that what might make sense from a commercial advertising perspective does not make sense for advocacy/political advertising.

"What they are bumping up a... (Below threshold)
Rance:

"What they are bumping up against is that what might make sense from a commercial advertising perspective does not make sense for advocacy/political advertising."


I totally agree with you on that. I don't think that they ever thought of themselves as a vehicle for political advertising.


As for other points you made, I looked at my previous comments and did not cite any editorial written by the mysterious SOMEONE ELSE, so I have no idea what you are talking about. I also have no idea where to track down whatever it was that you wrote last week.

Google?Remember thei... (Below threshold)
nogo war:

Google?
Remember their IPO?
Of course we all jumped in...
We all have doubled our money....
Having the resources to buy stocks...
the American Way...
Why is there a trashing of a company that has made investors real money?
Either we take exception to how a corporation ..say like Halliburton..makes money for investors..or we don't...
If investors are rewarded..what difference does it make how that profit is reached?

Right, not political advert... (Below threshold)
kim:

Right, not political advertising, political action. Some ethics.
============================

mantis and Rance, please re... (Below threshold)
kim:

mantis and Rance, please report to supervisors. You are now arguing against Moveon's position. You lost your way there parsing 'freedom of expression' and 'First Amendment'.
====================================

And nogo finds surcease in ... (Below threshold)
kim:

And nogo finds surcease in irony.

I wonder when they'll discover self-reflection?
==================================

Or am I wasting my time her... (Below threshold)
kim:

Or am I wasting my time here?
==============================

Hah. Moveon has movedon. ... (Below threshold)
kim:

Hah. Moveon has movedon. Unless the initial censoring wasn't at their request. Which would mean it was internal Google censoring.
=================================

Moveon is becoming radioact... (Below threshold)
kim:

Moveon is becoming radioactive. Their bumbling revealed partisan, possible criminal, bias at the New York Times. Are they revealing too much about Google here, or are they demonstrating the fecklessness rooted in dissonance that is their undipped portion?
==================================

mantis and Rance, please... (Below threshold)
mantis:

mantis and Rance, please report to supervisors. You are now arguing against Moveon's position. You lost your way there parsing 'freedom of expression' and 'First Amendment'.

I don't support MoveOn; I'm here defending Google. And I never parsed "freedom of expression" at all; that's a made up term that doesn't appear in the constitution. Freedom of speech, of the press, and of peaceful assembly. Cox and others seem to think that Google's freedoms as "the press" (yes, we've expanded that definition; it's different than inventing a "freedom of expression") are too much, and that they should be beholden to expanded freedom of speech.

So, mantis, do you think Go... (Below threshold)
kim:

So, mantis, do you think Google removed the ad on their own or at the suggestion of Moveon?
=========================================

Either you don't pay attent... (Below threshold)
mantis:

Either you don't pay attention or you're just asking stupid questions. It was MoveOn:

Under Google's trademark policy, owners can request that third parties' not be allowed to use their trademarked term in the text of ads -- a policy that far exceeds the requirements of trademark law. [ MoveOn.org's communications director Jennifer] Lindenauer says that MoveOn.org withdrew from that policy on Friday after it heard about the brewing controversy over Google's termination of Collins' text ads using the group's name.

"When we became aware of all the controversy around it, we opted out," Lindenauer says. "Of course we support free speech, and the right of anyone to parody us, but what we do care about is protecting our members -- we don't want anyone using our name or logo in a way that could harm our members and mission."

This is why I stopped responding to you a while back. You ignore most of what I write, and ask stupid questions in misguided attempts to achieve some sort of gotcha! victory, or something. Sometimes it's hard to decipher, or at least to filter out the nonsense.

Uh, mantis, the ad was pull... (Below threshold)
kim:

Uh, mantis, the ad was pulled before moveon opted out. Your own quote makes this point.

Read Lance Dutson at MaineWebReport.

Your life is not worth living, unexamined as it is.
==========================================

mantis is still defending t... (Below threshold)
kim:

mantis is still defending the indefensible Google, and still projecting about rhetoric. What about BDS, mantis, and what about the Gorebellied Fool.
==============================

I don't think you get it, m... (Below threshold)
kim:

I don't think you get it, mantis. Moveon's move demonstrates that Google had been selective about editing. Just as their awkwardness about the cost of the Betray Us ad revealed shenanigans at the NYT. I know you want to minimize that point; you've been dodging around it the whole time.

Ethics, my boy. Gnothi Seauton and all that crap.
==================================

A. Since you're defending ... (Below threshold)
kim:

A. Since you're defending it, do you think Google's policy is good. Here's your chance to get into the ethics of suppressing speech. Here is a good time to leave out the First Amendment, since, as you so rightly point out, this hasn't anything to do with it.

B. Do you think Google automatically pulled the ad according to policy, or in response to some objection, either internally or from Moveon? Inquiring minds want to know. Do you?
=====================================

Here's mantis "And I never ... (Below threshold)
kim:

Here's mantis "And I never parsed 'freedom of expression' at all; that's a made up term that doesn't appear in the constitution".

Bitter. Bitter.
========================




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