Typically, when one is concerned about what links to one's name on internet search engines, and the quality of the links associated with that name, the solution is to generate better and different links. In the case of a person who is not famous, such as Beverly "Bev" Stayart of Wisconsin, this is easily accomplished by starting a website under one's name.
Of course suing search engines such as Yahoo is another strategy to create new links, but that carries its own risks.
According to the Complaint filed in Beverly Stayart v. Yahoo, Inc., et. al., Bev Stayart is the author of numerous scholarly bulletin board posts on the heritage of the Saponi Indian Nation, as well as two poems published at a Danish website concerning the plight of baby seals in Canada. Ms. Stayart was therefore appalled when she visited the Yahoo and Alta Vista search engines to find the name "Bev Stayart" linked to spam sites advertising Cialis, sites infected with malware, and sites that offer adult-oriented images.
Though I'd never heard of her, apparently "[t]he name 'Bev Stayart' has commercial value because of her humanitarian endeavors, positive and wholesome image, and the popularity of her scholarly posts on the Internet." She also claims to be the only Bev Stayart who uses the internet, in the entire world.
I suppose I've been living under a rock all these years.
And so Beverly Stayart did what any positive, wholesome, popular humanitarian scholar would do under such circumstances: She sued Yahoo and Alta Vista for trademark infringement, invasion of privacy, and "disregard of Bev Stayart's rights."
The case presents a few difficulties. Leaving aside the problem of proving that there are no other Beverly Stayarts in the entire world who use the internet, as technology lawyer Eric Goldman points out, federal law shielding websites from liability for third party content may preempt or bar all of Ms. Stayart's claims. Nonetheless, I sympathize with Ms. Stayart's plight. Since it evidently has not occurred to her that a personal weblog might have driven the offending search results into page 10 oblivion, I'll offer her my own.
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