Precedence setting, or lone case? I'm sure SEO experts who have discovered this case are interested to see what becomes of it. A South Carolina judge has found the SEO Firm, Bright Builders Inc., responsible for damages done by a counterfeit golf club site.
The judge ruled Bright Builders was guilty of contributory trademark infringement, and other charges, due to them providing marketing and web hosting services. The judge ordered Bright Builders to pay $770,050 in statutory damages, while the site's owner, Christopher Prince paid $28,250.
Do you agree with the difference between damages owed? Let us know.
Cleveland Golf was the company who filed the suit, and originally only targeted Prince. When Cleveland's lawyers discovered of Bright Builder's services, they decided to file suit against them as well. The argument presented by Cleveland's lawyers is Bright Builders was knowingly aware of the scam, and continued their services.
Christopher Finnerty, one of the lawyers for Cleveland Golf said this of the ruling, "For Internet Intermediaries like SEOs and web hosts, this should be a cautionary warning" he continues, "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."
Finnerty also stated how this was the first time a service provider was found liable for infringement, without being notified prior to the lawsuit. Being the first of its kind, it brings about the question of whether or not this is a precedence setting case.
I'm not totally surprised the judge found Bright Builders guilty of contributing to trademark infringement. Considering we have no idea of the knowledge the judge has or developed during the case in terms of web hosting, or SEO practices. What I find odd is the discrepancy between the amount of money responsible between Prince, and Bright Builders. How could they be responsible for so much more than the actual owner of the site?
Bright Builders has never had a sterling reputation. If you research them on BBB, you'll find a rating of 'C-'. 26 complaints have been filed against them. If you search for them on Google, one of the top links will direct to a website called scam.com.
The case certainly leaves a worrisome feeling for SEO experts, and firms. It has the potential to make experts more aware of the content they're working with. It also provides a debate among those interested.
Should SEO and hosting services be responsible for the tools they're providing counterfeit sites? If they have no knowledge of the site being counterfeit, is there a defense to be found? Considering how much a SEO service needs to know in order to be successful, it presents a rousing debate.
Let us know how you feel about this case in the comments.
EDIT: To clarify, the verdict was found by a jury panel and the judgement was handed down by the South Carolina Judge.
UPDATE: Stephen Gingrich, Vice President of Global Legal Enforcement and HR for Cleveland® Golf/Srixon said this in a press release, "While individuals who sell counterfeits pose major problems for the manufacturer, companies like Bright Builders who can amplify the impact and scope of this problem are even more dangerous" he continues, "Counterfeiting has existed for thousands of years but has been a localized issue. The Internet, ease of global shipping and payments, combined with SEO's and web hosts injecting steroids into the situation has brought the issue into every consumer's living room."