A federal district court in California has added to the small body of case law addressing whether it’s permissible for one party to use another party’s trademark as a hashtag. The court held that, for several reasons, the 9th Circuit’s nominative fair use analysis did not cover one company’s use of another company’s trademarks

As consumers increasingly communicate and interact through social media platforms, courts have had to grapple with how to apply existing laws to new ways of communicating, as well as disseminating and using content. Sometimes, however, traditional legal standards apply to these new platforms in a straightforward manner. At least, that is what the court found in Dancel v. Groupon, Inc., a putative class action against Groupon, Inc., alleging that Groupon’s use of images originally posted on the social media site Instagram violated users’ rights under the Illinois Right of Publicity Act (IRPA).

Groupon, a website that offers consumers deals on goods and services, built a widget intended to provide its users a window into businesses for which Groupon offered deals. The widget used Instagram’s API to find photos that Instagram users had taken at particular locations, and then displayed those images under the deals offered on Groupon’s own website.  When a visitor to the Groupon page hovered his or her mouse over the Instagram images, the Groupon user could see the username of the person who posted the photo on Instagram and an associated caption, if there was one.

Dancel, who maintains an Instagram account with the username “meowchristine,” took a selfie of herself and her boyfriend in front of a restaurant and posted it on Instagram with a tag noting the name of the restaurant. Groupon later displayed this photograph, among others, in connection with its deal for the same restaurant.
Continue Reading