Internet Trademark Case Summaries
Am. Online, Inc. v. IMS
24 F. Supp. 2d 548 (E.D. Va. 1998)
Defendant sent 60 million spam e‑mail messages to America Online (“AOL”) subscribers, many containing “aol.com” as a falsified return address in the header. AOL sued for false designation of origin, trademark dilution, and various state-law claims, including trespass to chattels. The court first held that defendant’s unauthorized contact with AOL’s computer network, coupled with the resulting injury to business goodwill and the diminished value in AOL’s possessory interest in its computer network, constituted trespass to chattels under Virginia law. It then found that defendant’s use of “aol.com” in the headers of the spam messages would deceive people into thinking that AOL sponsored or approved of defendant’s bulk e‑mailing practices, which constituted false designation of origin under the Lanham Act. Finally, the court held that defendant tarnished AOL’s famous mark. AOL alleged that it received over 50,000 complaints regarding defendant’s spamming practices, which indicated that consumers created negative associations between AOL and defendant. The court granted summary judgment for AOL on these claims.