Film Academy Investigating Google In 'Oscars' Infringement Lawsuit (Exclusive)
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There's obviously no love lost between Hollywood and Google on the intellectual property front, but would the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences make a splashy move like suing Google?
For the past two years, AMPAS, which puts on the Oscars each year, has been locked in a legal battle with GoDaddy. At issue in the case is whether the domain registrar giant facilitates trademark infringement from unscrupulous cybersquatters by allowing users to buy a domain like oscarshotels.com or oscarsliveblogging.com, "park" the page and collect a portion of revenue from GoDaddy's advertising partners on a pay-per-click basis.
The litigation has been stuck at the pre-trial discovery stage, and there, GoDaddy appears to be mounting what might be called a "Blame Google defense."
As a result, in the past month, both GoDaddy and AMPAS are attempting to get the judge to compel Google to hand over documents. Further, both parties are also looking to depose Google executives. Google is resisting, telling a judge, "Both parties to this litigation would undoubtedly love to bring Google into the mix, but discovery should not be used as a fishing expedition to develop claims that were not pled."
The already nasty litigation could trigger tremendous fallout.
In December 2010, a federal judge in California allowed AMPAS to go ahead with its claims that GoDaddy’s “illegal activities result in advertising related to the Academy’s marks being placed on numerous parked pages that have actual relationship to the Academy, thereby causing dilution of Plaintiff’s interest in legally protected trademarks.”
Since then, AMPAS has been deposing many employees at GoDaddy, all the way up to the company's eccentric founder Bob Parsons.
One big take-away from the discovery is a focus on Google's involvement.
According to one court filing by the Film Academy, "GoDaddy has repeatedly informed AMPAS and the Central District of California Court that the sponsored links and advertisements on the Parked Pages are supplied by Google through Google's 'Adsense for Domains program (AFD)."
To win the lawsuit, AMPAS has to demonstrate of a "bad faith intent to profit" from websites illegitimately registered. AMPAS says that as this case has proceeded, GoDaddy has been making the case that it cannot be liable under the Anti-Cybersquatting Protection Act because Google's AFD program is "solely responsible."
Further, AMPAS points to what's been said during the depositions: "Plaintiff has deposed at least 12 GoDaddy witnesses -- many of those witnesses have been unable to answer even basic questions about who, what, when, and how GoDaddy came to the decision to monetize its Parked Page Programs. The only other entity with knowledge on these issues is Google."
As a result, AMPAS has been demanding that a judge compel Google to give up information related to the implementation of AFD with respect to GoDaddy's Parked Page Programs; its policies, procedures, and expectations relating to domain names incorporating third party trademarks; and revenue sharing between Google and GoDaddy.
AMPAS has already gotten 4,600 documents from Google, but it wants more, plus depositions of Google executives.
The pressure on Google is also coming from GoDaddy, which has also served a subpoena on the web search giant. GoDaddy is also seeking information about Google's decisions and policies.