Cuil's random image placement troubles IP owners

Last month a former Google developer and her team of 30 employees rolled out a new search engine called Cuil. The new engine boasts an innovative approach to internet searching, a magazine style layout, and superior privacy policies . While many have complained about how search engines like Google collect vast amounts of individually identifiable user data and store it indefinitely, Cuil does not collect nor store such data, making it an attractive alternative for privacy concerned browsers.

We understand Cuil is still in its early developmental stages, but there is one problem that came to our attention that needs addressed by Cuil developers. Shortly after Cuil’s launch we were contacted by the owner of an underground music site after he found his copyright protected favicon appearing next to the search results for other sites on Cuil. After investigating the matter, it appears that Cuil selects relevant images related to the search terms entered by the user and then randomly assigns those images to the results. This process unfortunately causes copyrighted images and trademarks to appear out of context, likely violating various intellectual property laws.

Apart from the legal ramifications, this random association of images with results should concern Cuil because it is more likely to confuse users than help them. For example, we searched for the fast food restaurant “Taco Bell” and to our surprise we found the official Taco Bell site link accompanied by a photo of an African Lion while the official Taco Bell trademark appeared beside a link to an unofficial website distributing Taco Bell recipes. It was necessary to ignore the images and read individual urls to determine which listing was the official Taco Bell site. Similarly, when we searched for our parent organization by entering “Utility Consumers’ Action Network,” our site’s link was accompanied by the logo for the Rainforest Action Network, an organization unrelated to ours. These examples illustrate how the design flaw is not only confusing for Cuil users but also causes the type of initial consumer confusion trademark law seeks to protect from.

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