The Internet may be infinite, but people still are constantly fighting over online real estate. It happens in the porn industry, and it happens to celebrities. Even Miami Dolphins cheerleaders have to fight for their right to party at their own website.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida recently ruled in a dispute between two models using the stage name Elizabeth Sky. The defendant allegedly went on a campaign across the Internet to destroy the other model’s social networking presence. Will the real Elizabeth Sky please stand up, please stand up, please stand up.…
The Technology & Marketing Blog gets us up to speed:
Elizabeth Ordonez is a dancer, model, actress, choreographer (etc.) and is known by her fans as “Elizabeth Sky.” She sued Nisha Elizabeth George and her entity Icon Sky Holdings alleging that Icon Sky wrongly obtained a trademark registration for “ELIZABETH SKY” and went on a campaign to disrupt Ordonez’s web presence. George allegedly sent letters to Model Mayhem, Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook, all of whom took down Ordonez’s content, account, or forced Ordonez to change her name.
Catfight! …Or maybe not really. George, who lives in Texas, didn’t appear in court or even respond to the claims, so it was a pretty easy default judgment. Judge Patricia A. Seitz ruled in favor of Elizabeth Ordonez on claims of common law trademark infringement, tortious interference, libel, and other claims. (The decision came out in late August.) She was awarded $81,000 in damages and $25,000 in attorney fees.
Ordonez has been using her stage name for a long time, and apparently George knew that. She allegedly used sketchy tactics to mess with Ordonez. George, who has a litany of aliases, filed a trademark application for the name immediately after Ordonez did, even though she had possibly never used the name before. According to the court, she “photoshopped” the logo onto documents and websites to make it seem as if she had a history with the name. She not only trolled social networking sites to take down Ordonez, she threatened her business associates.
This part of the ruling is incredible:
With regard to the second type of action, Defendants threatened national, international, and Florida based third parties that have either worked with Plaintiff in the entertainment industry or have spotlighted her as Elizabeth Sky. Such correspondence demanded that these third parties remove any pictures or references to Plaintiff and threatened legal action for failure to comply.
As to the libel, Defendants posted warning messages containing false accusations about Ms. Ordonez on online social networks and websites owned, controlled and/or created by George and/or Icon Sky. The language used is identical or substantially similar to the following: (1) “A female Hispanic from Greenacres, Florida named Elizabeth Ordonez is pretending to be Elizabeth Sky, trying to steal her identity. We are in no way associated with the individual and pursuing legal actions;” and (2) “The real ELIZABETH SKY. Advancing entertainment! A Florida female named Elizabeth Ordonez is trying to steal my name/identity so watch out for frauds!”
What an unpleasant person.
For the record, Ordonez is legit. According to her Model Mayhem page, she has danced with the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders, Rihanna, Pitbull, and other A-list entertainers. She’s been in commercials for the likes of Ford and Bud Light. She also runs a Fedora company called Funktalitry.
As the decision notes, Google searches for “Elizabeth Sky” don’t bring up any results relating to the defendant.
The sort of scary thing about this, and it isn’t really touched upon in the decision, is how easy it was for George to seriously disrupt Ordonez’s online profile. She actually managed to get control of Ordonez’s Twitter page, in addition to getting her Facebook and Model Mayhem sites taken down.
Venkat Balasubramani at the Technology and Marketing blog elaborates:
It’s unclear as to whether George went to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and waved around the trademark registration—from the court’s recitation of the facts, it did not seem like George was armed with a registration when she complained to the various networks. It’s tough to draw any conclusions from this case, but my instinct is that networks are more than willing to honor takedown notices without closely scrutinizing them, although at times it seems like networks have their own (sometimes maddening) administrative mazes in place.
Hopefully the real Ms. Sky can actually recover damages from the elusive, lame imitator. In the meantime Elizabeth, just keep doing that thing you do.
Court Awards Damages for Wrongful Disruption of Web Presence — Ordonez v. Icon Sky Holdings [Technology & Marketing Blog]
Christopher Danzig is a writer in Oakland, California. He covers legal technology and the West Coast for Above the Law. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisdanzig or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more of his work at chrisdanzig.com.