The Chicago Tribune reports that United is suing Jeremy Cooperstock who owns the customer complaint website Untied.com for trademark infringement.
The lawsuit is in Canadian court (Cooperstock lives in Canada) and I don’t know the first thing about Canada’s intellectual property laws. So I won’t express an opinion on the legal merits of the case.
I first stumbled upon the website in a trade publication in the late 1990s, though I imagine there are folks who simply misspell United and wind up there. Certainly looking at some of the complaints logged on the site it appears as though some people think they are writing to United (and the site did set things up to facilitate that).
The site was redesigned in April (a month after the United.com website was
made to look like Continental.com re-designed). Untied.com does look very similar to the United website.
Although now there’s a pop up when you first go there flagging that it is not the United website.
The website uses a logo that is very similar to United’s, albeit with a sad face on the globe and declaring itself a member of an ‘evil alliance’ rather than the Star Alliance.
Cooperstock says the website is parody and protected. My guess is that with these things and most of the time that may not matter, it’s tough to be on the receiving end of a lawsuit from a large entity with significantly greater resources (unless the jurisdiction you’re in has anti-SLAPP legislation that makes it much more costly for a company to pursue litigation against its critics).
As bad as United looks here in going after its critics, I lose a decent amount of sympathy when the piece reveals that Cooperstock suggested that United pay him as a consultant on improving customer service.
The site’s timeline notes that a website of complaints about United was created in August 1996. The owner received his first legal threat from United in January 1997. And it transitioned to the Untied.com domain in April 1997.
One wonders, of course, why now, after all these years? I don’t know the answer. Perhaps it’s the escalation that occurred when Untied.com was redesigned in April to look like the new United website. Perhaps it’s that Continental management takes a harder line on such things than the old United folks did. We may see additional evidence of that if more suits start rolling out of Willis Tower in Chicago, certainly rumor is that other legal nasty-grams are in the queue there.
It’ll be interesting to see how the case now develops.
(HT: Frequently Flying)