Friday, October 12, 2007

Our advertising policies and political speech

A recent article about our treatment of a political ad placed on Google suggested that we make decisions about advertising content based on the political viewpoint of the advertiser and the ad. This is simply untrue. We do not accept or reject ads based on the political opinions expressed in the ads or the political views of the advertiser.

Let me explain the facts behind the matter and the policy behind the decision.

Recently, representatives of Senator Susan Collins' Senate re-election campaign tried to place an ad on Google that included a reference to, a political group. The text of this ad was rejected by our system because of our trademark policy, not because of its political content.

Under our trademark policy, a registered trademark owner may request that its mark not be used in the text of other parties' ads. Some time ago, submitted a request to Google that its trademark not be used in any ads, and as a result our advertiser support team offered instructions on how Senator Collins' campaign could edit and resubmit its ad.

Any company or organization -- regardless of political affiliation -- could do what MoveOn did and thereby prevent advertisers from running ads that include their trademarks in ad texts. And that's very important. The ad in question could have said that was great, or even just so-so, and our policy would have resulted in the same outcome; Google would have asked the advertiser to drop the trademarked phrase.

Our trademark policy is considered one of the least restrictive in the industry. It strikes a balance among the interests of users, advertisers, and trademark owners by leaving it up to trademark owners to notify us of restrictions on their registered trademarks. Any entity that demonstrates to us that it owns trademark rights can request that its trademarked terms not be used in the text of Google ads.

Finally, it was claimed that "Google routinely permits the unauthorized use of [other] company advocacy ads." In fact, if ads are running on Google that include trademark terms in their text, either the trademark owner has not submitted a complaint, or the advertiser has been authorized to use the trademark.

We are committed to fairness and freedom of expression, and we recognize that the nature of political advertising is to inspire debate. We look forward to engaging in this debate in an open and transparent fashion, and we encourage political candidates and campaigns to contact our elections team with any questions they may have about our policies.


Bob said...

As the author of the article which broke this story in the Washington Examiner let me make a suggestion:

Change your policy!

There is no basis in trademark law to support MoveOn's claim. Rather that blindly accept their claim why not ask them to explain the legal basis for their claim. Once you realize that MoveOn does not have a valid legal claim you can put Senator Collins' ads back up.

Anything less means that you have opened the door to every corporation in America using your absurd policy to squelch criticism.

Robert Cox
Media Bloggers Association
(also Op-Ed writer for

Mikey said...

I'm sorry, Mr. Cox, but your analysis is flawed - does in fact have a legal trademark on their name, and you can find out such information by searching the USPTO website. I included a link for you to search and see the actual registered trademarks yourself.

And this has nothing to do with squelching criticism - this policy definitely does not bar you from putting it in your meta information for searching! :-)

Scott Yates said...

Mikey, your analysis of the analysis is flawed. The original post accurately described the situation from Google's POV. What Mr. Cox is saying is that the policy itself squelches criticism of corporations because it means that nobody can use sponsored links with trademarked names.

For instance, let's say I had a bad experience with Comcast (I know, remote, right?) and I felt so strongly about it that I wanted to create a Comcast Stinks blog. Google lets me do that, lets people search for "Comcast Stinks" and find my blog, etc. But if I wanted to pay for some Ad words that include "Comcast" that I could not do.

It's Google's right to do that, this is America. But I agree with the writer of the story that Google should change the policy.

I also think it would be good for Google's bottom line. So much money is flowing into politics that the opposing sides could just bid up the PPC if they want a higher sponsored link position.

Your humble typist,

Scott Yates

rdarsey said...

(1) Any person who shall, without the consent of the registrant—

(a) use in commerce any reproduction, counterfeit, copy, or colorable imitation of a registered mark in connection with the sale, offering for sale, distribution, or advertising of any goods or services on or in connection with which such use is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive; or

(b) reproduce, counterfeit, copy, or colorably imitate a registered mark and apply such reproduction, counterfeit, copy, or colorable imitation to labels, signs, prints, packages, wrappers, receptacles or advertisements intended to be used in commerce upon or in connection with the sale, offering for sale, distribution, or advertising of goods or services on or in connection with which such use is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive,

shall be liable in a civil action by the registrant for the remedies hereinafter provided. Under subsection (b) hereof, the registrant shall not be entitled to recover profits or damages unless the acts have been committed with knowledge that such imitation is intended to be used to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive.

The above text is from this site:

The way I read this, Google has effectively bypassed the burden of proof that falls upon the owner of the Trademark. It seems to me a better policy would be to allow the parties involved reach and agreement or have their day in court before any action is taken.

Given that Google is a major contributor to, to the tune of $1,000,000.00 (see this site: ) it might have been wiser to allow the ad.

Google has always been my search engine of choice, but given the actions of the past few days, I am no longer sure that I can trust the results from the service.

Whiskey Juvenile said...

Not being the government, Google is free to do whatever it wants in regards to allowing non-infringing uses of trademarks.

This is pretty clearly a non-infringing nominative use (as the use is not in commerce nor is it in connection with the sale, offering for sale, distribution, or advertising of any goods or service nor is there a likelihood of confusion; it basically fails every factor of the prima facie case of infringement), but Google can certainly choose not to have its lawyers vet every use of a trademark proposed to determine whether it would infringe.

Mark Tapscott said...

As the editor who published the Cox oped in The Washington Examiner, I was shocked to discover that Google allows its trademark policy to be used by a political advocacy organization to suppress its critics. As a journalist, I've devoted my entire career to bringing greater transparency to the political process and to protecting the right of free expression. As such, I am stunned that Google, which absolutely depends upon free expression for its continued existence, would allow itself to be used in this manner.

Mark Tapscott said...

And now that I click on the "Mark Tapscott" that appears with my previous comment, I discover that it links to "Flyaway," a blog with only two posts (both by a "Mark Tapscott") with which I have absolutely nothing to do. But the profile on that blog includes my personal gmail address. Forgive me for sounding paranoid, but does this mean my email has been viewable by the author of "Flyaway" and if so for how long? Did somebody at Google authorize this? I would appreciate a prompt explanation from Google of how this happened and when it will be corrected.

Robert Cox said...

I would remind people that Google had claimed for a long time that blogs were added to Google News by an algorithim and without ANY human intervention. A claim that they later acknowledged was not true - that blogs were being manually added and removed from Google news.

In this case, It is worth noting that in their chat discussion (available at MaineWebReport dot com) with the Collins campaign, in two different "statements" and now this blog post, Google has offered THREE (or FOUR depending on how you count the trademark claims) different explanations for why the Collins/MoveOn ads were removed and the ad campaign suspended.

(1) Google pro-actively enforced their policy manually and on their own initiative once they became aware of an "unathorized" use of a trademarked name.

(2) a trademark owner saw the ad and filed a complaint for...

(2a) trademark infringement
(2b) trademark disparagement

...and then they manually removed the ad.

(3) MoveOn had PREVIOUSLY reqested that no advertiser be permtted to use their name except them and so Google pro-actively enforced their policy in an automated manner when the text of this ad was rejected by "our system".

Regarding this latest explanation, there is one major problem:

The Collins/MoveOn ads ran for THREE DAYS before it was pulled down.

If the complaint was on file and the "system" blocked the ads then how did they run at all? Why was the Collins campaign told that Google had received a complaint from MoveOn about the ads AFTER they began to run. Why did it take three days to suspend the ad campaign?

Regardless of the explanations offered, what remains is a bad policy that has the effect of enabling corporations, political organizations and other trademark owners to use phony trademark claims to suppress direct criticism and escape public scrutiny.

rdarsey said...

In reading the original post I came across another post regarding "The economic value of fair use" The author references a wiki article that defines fair use.

I decided to use Wiki to look for fair use in trademarks and found this article: which states:

which decreed that one party may use or refer to the trademark of another if the following conditions are met:

The product or service cannot be readily identified without using the trademark (e.g. trademark is descriptive of a person, place, or product attribute)

The user only uses so much of the mark as is necessary for the identification (e.g. the words but not the font or symbol)

The user does nothing to suggest sponsorship or endorsement by the trademark holder. This applies even if the nominative use is commercial, and the same test applies for metatags.

Furthermore, if a use is found to be nominative, then by definition it can not dilute the trademark.

I am not a legal expert, and I have not seen the original banned ad, but it seems to me that an ad that states the following:

“Susan Collins is MoveOn’s primary target. Learn how you can help” and “Help Susan Collins stand up to the money machine.” (taken from the Examiner article found here: would easily fall within the Nominative Use definition show above.

This issue is not about conservative vs liberal. This is about a company that has the market share that Google has demonstrating a disturbing trend to censor search results based on ideology or political veiw point. A lot of the users in the country use Google as their search provider. The actions demonstrated in this case show that the results of users searches cannot be trusted. This seems to go directly against the company motto of "Do No Evil". This is also one of the reasons that laws against monopolies exist in this country.

I ask that Google re-examine it's stated policy and the application of that policy in this case. Is it really up to you to determine what is Trademark infringement? I would think it would be much better to require a court ruling before any action is taken.

tweek said...

I can't see how allowing smaller clients to directly use trademarks in advertisements in negative ways that belong to potential or current 'money machine' clients, with absolutely no recourse to the trademark owner, is in Google's best interest. Not every potential mass marketing customer has a big web presence, like or Comcast, and Google doesn't have anything near a monopoly on internet advertising anyway, nor would they be where they are today if they allowed anyone to piss off their biggest customers.

I think Google's trademark policy as described here is fair. It not only allows Google to avoid any costly and volatile government arbitration, it prevents direct conflicts within the service between customers.

What I most don't understand is how the hell any of this would cause any sane, educated person to mistrust Google's consumer services... I mean, if you're the type that thinks the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy has control of the media, the schools, and everything, you're already far gone and you don't really matter anyway, so there's not much they could do to convince you that their search results aren't slanted by Google itself, and not much need to do so.

Personally, I think Yates is whining. Also, is the political equivalent of a camwhore; any press for that organization will only strengthen it and its supporters. There are better ways to win an election than smearing the smear campaign... Political campaigns in this country have become so incredibly detached from the actual issues, and even then most campaigns focus on vote-drawing moral fluff rather than what really matters; government spending, taxes, excessive industry / economy regulation, etc. It'll be a sad day in America when elections are won and lost solely on the basis of what advertising carrier carries which ads. I hope we're not that far gone quite yet, anyway.

Just my two cents.

mike said...

ha! Anyone that has followed the trials of the recording and movie industries knows that "Fair Use" defenses are in serious jeopardy.

All I see here is blahblahblahblahblah, wahwahwah. Let's stop pretending Google is filtering their search results based on political views or that it's wrong of them to not want to be sued for contributory infringement by every nutjob eyeing their company's stock price.

We're takling about paid ads here. Paid ads. I'm very glad they allow people to not use their names and trademarks in paid ads. This increases the integrity of their results, it doesn't decrease it. Without this policy, competing companies could buy ads with lies about competitors, and they would show up at the top of search results, which to many untrained eyes looks like the most reliable information presented by Google.

Not only that, but if it was me or my company someone was spreading lies about, I'd be forced to sue the party that created the ad as well as Google to shut it down. It isn't their job to determine the validity of claims in ads. It is a smart policy. It is a just policy. Why not take your enthusiasm and apply it to a real cause, of which Google News can help you find many.

Eddie said...

I am not a lawyer and don't pretend to understand all the legalese. I just have one question for Google...

Let's say I have a problem with Coca-Cola, and Coca-Cola has made the same request that is said to have made, and I want to warn people about Coca-Cola, (let's say I don't like how it tastes), how am I to do that? Am I reduced to warning people about drinking the brown carbonated soft drink that is NOT Pepsi or Dr. Pepper and that is based in Atlanta Ga.?

You say this doesn't limit freedom of speech? To me this whole deal is assinine. I am a big Google booster but this really makes me think. You should know and do better!

defunk said...

Somehow I just can't bring myself to believe the words of a spokesperson for the world's most hypocritical company.

Don't be evil, except when evil helps the bottom line (China).

Paul Petro said...

So, why are there two adword ads that appear when I search for

If these words aren't allowed then how come there are sponsored links?

What am I missing?

KDE said...

I think this is a terrific policy from Google. As I understand their stated position, It is a bonanza for any and all conservative organizations, political parties, groups, etc. I will now work hard to make sure that Google does not publish ANY ad from anyone that includes any disparaging remarks about the "Republican Party", "GOP", "RNC", "Republican National Committee", , the "NRA", or any other group opposed to my organizations' viewpoints. Furthermore, per their stated policy, the ad doesn't even have to specifically say anything negative in THAT particular ad. In other words, I can gleefully have removed ads from any group I want as long as it even contains the trademarked name of my organization somewhere in the ad! Oh, happy day!

Now, everyone get busy and have their organizations' representatives object to all such ads on the basis of using their trademarked name without permission. They have sown the wind, so let them reap the whirlwind!

I give Google about one day to suddenly change their policy when it becomes the liberals' oxes being gored!

Whiskey Juvenile said...

I still don't see what obligation Google has to permit lawful uses of trademarks. They are well within their rights to give more protection than currently exists in U.S. law; they're only asking for trouble if they start infringing.

Google is certainly not in the business of policing trademark use themselves, and they are and should be free to err on the side of caution and simply prohibit unauthorized use of trademarks, whether nominative or descriptive, and whether infringing or not.

nevetS said...

I personally ran into this policy several years ago, and although it was a tough pill for me to swallow the day I ran into the problem, I wholeheartedly agree with it.

When I ran into this problem, I wanted to put an ad targetting the Toys R Us keywords. I honestly can't remember what the ad was, but I remember that Toys R Us customers were potentially my customers.

There may be very little competition for MoveOn keywords, and maybe some people feel that this voice is a voice that needs to be heard and listed with adwords. If you look at the bigger picture though - if google made an exception in it's policy for a small subset of customers and a small subset of keywords - the work and logic involved would be inordinately complex and guess what? There would still be a bunch of unhappy people out there.

Google isn't out to make MoveOn happy, or MoveOn's competitors happy. They tried to make a policy that covers the vast majority of situations successfully. In my opinion, they have done that. The customer base seems to agree as well considering that revenues from adwords outrank every other competitor in the market space.

Google doesn't owe anybody placement. If you really want to target those keywords, build an authoritative site on the topic. All Google has done is stripped the possibility of paid advertisement away.

As far as the ads running for a while and then getting turned off - in my experience, google doesn't always catch the bad ads right away. Who knows the rhyme or reason, but it sometimes works that way.

This certainly isn't a policy that was just in place for the elections - it has been around for years. I do find it strangely hypocritical that a conservative would be fighting for looser trademark restrictions.

Next time, before you complain and promote your complaint throughout social networks via unethical astroturf campaigns, try stopping by a webmaster forum and asking a few questions. Oh, and also... next time you decide to get on a high horse and call out an evil empire maybe you should figure out whether or not what you are demanding they do is in alignment with your own political values.

nevetS said...

Hey Mark Tapscott... it's YOUR BLOG! and nobody else can see your gmail address in the profile.

Feel free to edit it.

Ashwin said...

I'm not from America, but in most jurisdictions of the world, you can't use a trademark for commercial purposes when it's owner objects to such use. Since Google directly profits by displaying ads, they aren't protected by the fair-use exception. They would be liable for copyright infringement if they displayed those ads. Although the self-proclaimed blogger activists may claim otherwise, the law on copyright and fair-use has been around since a long time and is very clear - ignoring it will invite legal problems for Google. I wonder whether owners of the newspaper will tolerate it if I ran an ad with words like "Washington Examiner is unfair!"

If a lawyer with experience in this field (in America) is reading this, can you clarify whether Google could ignore requests from copyright owners?

Whiskey Juvenile said...

Ashwin: trademarks are not copyrights.

Ashwin said...

i'm no lawyer and didn't know that the laws may be different.. thanks for telling me so.. but i still have a couple of questions:
Is there liability for such use and on whom does it rest?
Is an advertising agency obliged to honor a take-down notice?

rdarsey said...

The issue here is not legal vs illegal. It is about a policy that does not appear to be applied equally. In one of my earlier posts I referenced an article that shows a link between Google and This type of link raises questions about exactly what motives Google had in this case and in other cases like it. One example can be found here: Google is the parent company of YouTube.

If you search on any search engine you will find many cases of Google and it's questionable application of censorship.

All of this can be seen as evidence of Google having a political agenda that is used when applying their policies. Another case that can shed some light is the lawsuit that Geico brought against Google. Google won the case.

I am not expecting any government action on this. In fact I do not want the government involved. Ideally the free market will solve this issue.

Lady PP said...

Since when can a tax exempt 527 political site can claim they have the same rights as a business? If they want to claim to be a business than loose the 527 label, pay taxes and become responsible legally for what they post as any other business is!

ping said...

I'm not a lawyer... I thought about trademark owner's rights vs. freedom of expression and it really beats me on this one.


Eddie, you are free to create a web page or even a web site to go against whatever company. You can pass the URLs around the bloggers or other circles. If you do have good stuff there, your site will be so popular that Google shows your site on the top of search results, and your purpose of spreading words around is achieved. It does not have to go through Google Ads. Not to mention you don't pay Google in the process.

kde, you can indeed demand that Google take down ads mentioning organizations with opposite views with you, if you are the trademark owner of those organizations.

The Shadow said...

Exactly why is everyone ready to toss google to the wolves over this.

First, if indeed google is a major contributer to, so what, from what I understand, this policy has been in effect way before this event occured.

Second, given that EVERYONE seems to want to hold google accountable for someone else's actions (anyone remmeber the click ad fiasco, and the german newspaper publishing, and Viacom, universal, etc..) this policy seems to strike the right balance between them all, otherwise, they would spend the majority of their time policing content, and then everyone would be complaining about that.

Lastly, relating to the time lag between the posting and the removal. Google claims they will remove such content as soon as possible. Which does not say "auto-reject" but rather someone has to view it (their search engines are not THAT good yet) and make sure it does't fall the catagory of "bad ad". Come-on, if they rejected purely on keywords, then with a mortal filter (someone other people have been clamoring about), fragmets of words such as "ass" from "association" or in this case from a poorly typed "Can we Move-On.Organization..." would get kicked right away.

Lets not break out the pitchforks just yet people. Its a political issue and for many people politics are topics of hot debate, but try and use a level head and see the actual situtation for what it is.

bitemegoogle said...

Lets just face the facts. Google and the people in the trademark area are quite simply, EVIL.

What used to be a great idea implemented by smart people has descended into a swamp of political correctness. Their slogan of "Do Good ..." is nothing but a farce.

While Google is perfectly within their rights to pick and choose which ads they choose to run, their obvious lying about their claim to provide equal access to advertisers is one more proof that Google is evil.

As to the word "" being trademarked, one should read the law carefully. Trademarks are intended to prevent confusion with respect to identifying goods and services. To believe that an entity can prevent the recitation of its name by others by trademarking it is foolish and not supported by case law. It is also very disingenuous on the part of to try and stop people who disagree with them by asserting a trademark privilege . Not suprising, however.

KC Kunnanz said...

As I see it, there is only one question that need be answered to demonstrate justification of lack there of:

Could Senator Collin's ad have referred to in any way that would still be recognized without using the supposedly trademarked name?

Obviously not. If Coke would invest a large chunk of money in attack ads against the CEO of Pepsi if they chose to run for political office, is it ethical that the CEO could not counter such ads due to trade mark infringement??

Google's logic taken to the next level is comical: the implication that if Senator Collin wants to prevent political criticism, she need only trademark her name...

rcmarkham said...

It is obvious that the lawyers at Google need to go back to law school. Someone should verify they actually graduated from an accredited law school.

It is also obvious that Google has no respect. They do not respect others, so they command no respect themselves.

Is it not obvious to the most casual observer that a four star general, who has risked his life for Google, for all of us, for the United States of America, deserves a little respect? Does Google really think he should be called a traitor? How far will a company with those kinds of values go? I would guess not far.

Unless they mature, Google will be a flash in the pan, a mist that will soon evaporate, mere teenagers in a world of corporate adults.

Join me as I boycott Google. We will do everything we can to make sure NO adds get placed on Google from any sources we have control of.

Warren said...

A few points things:

Google's publishing of this policy without disclosing in this policy their donations to reeks of bias.

This kind of policy is negated by the overwhelming right of free speech in the political arena. In fact, the trademark claim is probably invalid, as trademark law is based in comerce, not press or political expression.

Was an alternative given, such as saying something like "a .org named moveon". Trademarks are very specfic. Paraphrasing is not covered. It is another expression of free speech.

I go back to my first statement. Google claimed that they "would never do evil." They have broken this with their censorship. There have been tens (hundreds?) of millions of people killed in the last century by the extreme left. Censorship is on that path.

Fred said...

It's interesting. (Almost) every comment I have read has made valid arguments.

Speaking as someone originally aghast at Google's decision, the policy as reported in this blog post makes some sense. Just because Fair Use is allowable under the law does not mean Google must provide a platform for it. In the same context, just because someone has requested Google remove certain ads does not mean they are required to do so.

Google has apparently set a certain policy. Whether this policy is automatically or manual enforced is still in question.

My perspective is this: Google is a private company. It is under no obligation to treat its clients fairly, evenly or even be open with them. Your credit card company does not treat you the same as it treats other customers, why should Google be different? The fact is, they are a privately-owned, public company and not subject and provisions of fair treatment.

In the end, if you are that upset with Google's policies, start using another search engine. There are several you can choose from. I am going to stick with Google for now. If they start donating to MoveOn, a political organization in opposition to my views, you'll be able to count how fast I switch to another service in nanoseconds on one hand.

Ed Morris said...

Due to Google's policies and politics, I will no longer be using their products/services!
That is my new policy, I'm "Movin On".

"Given that Google is a major contributor to, to the tune of $1,000,000.00 (see this site: ) it might have been wiser to allow the ad."

Leonard said...

Google's decision to censor search results for the People's Republic of China left little doubt as to which end of the political spectrum the company's sentiments lie. It's not accidental that Google's absurd policies so conveniently prohibit the free exchange of ideas while serving as a glove into which the hand of political correctness just happens to fit.

Michael A. Reynolds said...

There seems to be a peculiar obsession in this comment chain with regards to whether (or any other trademark holder) has the legal right to withhold their trademark from Google's ads, and/or has actional recourse should their trademark be used in an ad. This is simply not the issue at hand. MoveOn's moritorium on their trademark being used on Google's ads is a product of Google's policy on ad placement, not the other way around. MoveOn made no claim that they had the legal right to bar their trademark from use online according to USPT law, Google's TOS gave them that right, just as it has to countless other trademark holders since MoveOn was just a twinkle in the eye of a few political activists.

Humbly yours,
M. Reynolds

PS: 'Fair use' covers the use of trademarks in advertising, just so you know.

Bill said...

Congratulations Google!

You donate $1,000,000 to the biggest hate-mongering liberals on the planet....

You allow to spew their hateful venom in their "Betray us" ad that insuls a fine American who fights for their right to breathe...and continue their hateful ads.

Then you deny another American the right to respond to the hate mongers and their attempts to prevent that candidates free speech in an "open" campaign.

Finally, you have your mealy-mouthed attorneys describe Googles actions as not only legal, but fair.

Google is a very sick puppy. Unlike your heroes at, I don't hate you. I passionately dislike you and the lies you tell.

sueranparker said...

This topic should not be allowed to pass until Google has reversed it's policied and decided it was time to run a business and not be a partner to a political campaign.

I am very frustrated by the ignorant act and then a response the proves that the folks at Google perceive the general public to be just as ignorant.

I strongly encourage others to continue to add comments here and other blogs in order to make sure that the message is out that Google has not changed their stance.

sueranparker said...

This topic should not be allowed to pass until Google has reversed it's policied and decided it was time to run a business and not be a partner to a political campaign.

I am very frustrated by the ignorant act and then a response the proves that the folks at Google perceive the general public to be just as ignorant.

I strongly encourage others to continue to add comments here and other blogs in order to make sure that the message is out that Google has not changed their stance.