The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

James Plotkin

Intellectual property

Metatags and IP rights

By James Plotkin June 19, 2015 19 June 2015

One of the key goals of trademark law is to protect businesses against commercial misappropriation of their brands; but a recent Federal Court ruling illustrates how the current trademark legal regime is ill-equipped to address some unfair business practices in the online space.

In Red Label Vacations Inc. (redtag.ca) v. 411 Travel Buys Limited (411travelbuys.ca), the Federal Court had occasion to consider whether using metatags could constitute copyright infringement, trademark infringement, passing off or depreciation of goodwill. Justice Manson dismissed all of these claims. This decision is of particular interest since the reasons (partly) extend beyond the facts of the case and make a broader legal statement on the status of metatags as IP in Canada.

A metatag is a piece of information contained in a webpage’s code. Its purpose is to describe the contents of the page to help search engines place the page in search results based on the search terms used. In this case, the defendant used metatags that were either identical or very similar to the plaintiff’s registered trademarks. It also evidently copied these metatags from the source code on the plaintiff’s website.

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