24 August 2020TrademarksMuireann Bolger

Facebook sued over COVID-19 party Instagram posts

Arizona State University’s governing body has taken Facebook to court over its alleged failure to take action against an Instagram account which is using the university’s trademarks to promote “Hoax-19" parties on campus.

The  Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees ASU, filed the trademark suit on Thursday, August 20, at the  US District Court for the District of Arizona in a bid to force Facebook to take action against the anonymous account holder.

According to the complaint, an anonymous user began to infringe the university’s ‘ASU’ and other Arizona state university registered trademarks, as well as its colours and trade dress on an Instagram account “asu_covid.parties” on July 19.

The complaint alleged that the account holder illegally used the university’s trademarks to promote a so-called “Hoax-19” COVID-19 party to perpetuate the myth that the pandemic is “a big fat hoax,” and that the account is spreading “dangerous misinformation” just as students are returning to university campuses.

The board also believes this is an attempt by Russia to “sow confusion and conflict” and exacerbate the pandemic in the US, according to the complaint. It stated that the “lawsuit is necessary in part to discover the true identity of the parties behind this account”.

Before filing its action, the board stated that it first filed a trademark infringement report with Instagram, requesting that the social media platform remove or alter the offending account.

However, “Instagram has refused to remove or otherwise require any modifications of the account or its posts”, said the suit, adding that Facebook has continued to provide its Instagram service to “asu_covid.parties”.

The complaint stated that the use of the trademarks “not only harms ASU, but if not enjoined is also likely to endanger the health of the university community” and that there was “already evidence of at least one instance of actual confusion regarding ASU’s affiliation with this Instagram account”.

It claimed that an alumnus had threatened to cut off all support for ASU because of the apparent misperception that this account and its messaging comes from or has been sanctioned by ASU.

The board claimed that its trademarks have become famous in Arizona “and extremely well known and well regarded throughout the US and the world”.

The suit alleged that, in addition to the instances of infringement of the ASU trademarks and trade dress, the anonymous defendant engaged in a series of offensive and false statements about ASU. These included posts where it claimed that the account owner has “won the battle in court” and that ASU has been ordered to pay its legal fees plus $500,000 in damages.

The board is seeking damages from Facebook, the owner of the Instagram platform and service, as a contributory infringer of ASU’s IP rights, and has requested a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to prohibit the account holder from using the ASU marks on the platform.

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