United Airlines drags Montrealer to court over parody website
United Airlines is in full damage-control mode, just days after videos of a passenger being forcibly removed from his seat went viral. It’s not the first time complaints against the airline have made waves.
One Montrealer has spent the last five years locked in a legal battle over a website he created to collect customer and employee complaints about United Airlines.
“Going and suing your critics into oblivion is not really the right way to improve the airline although I understand it’s all an economic game,” Jeremy Cooperstock said.
“Obviously their intent was to shut down my website.”
The Westmount resident behind the website is also a professor of electrical and computer engineering at McGill University. He first took to the web to share his complaints against United Airlines on his University of Toronto webpage back in the 1990s after taking a turbulent trip with the airline when he was still a student.
“The airline’s response to that was to send us a cease-and-desist letter to me and to the university” Cooperstock said. “So we removed the page.”
But instead of disappearing into cyberspace, Cooperstock decided to up his game by publishing complaints and starting a complaints database. He claims angry customers and employees encouraged him to start a website in 1997, a move that didn’t sit well with United Airlines.
“The United employees helped me do so financially. I registered the domain name Untied.com to reflect an organization that was quite disassembled and not held together effectively,” Cooperstock said.
The website has collected an estimated 30,000 complaints over the years and in 2012, the Chicago-based company launched a legal battle against the Montrealer claiming the design and logo infringe on their trademark, since it’s confusingly similar.
“United sued me in parallel before the Quebec Superior Court and the Federal Court of Canada,” Cooperstock said. “Their action was clearly intended to frighten me.”
While he lost his fight in the provincial court of law earlier this year, Cooperstock is still awaiting the verdict from a federal court judge.
The first ruling forced him to stop providing the names and contact information of executives at United Airlines, and he expects a second ruling may force him to hand over the domain name altogether.
“I very much fear that the verdict will be against me,” Cooperstock said. “United had very skilful lawyers.”
In a statement to Global News, United Airlines said, “We believe Mr. Cooperstock should be able to voice his opinions, and our case is to protect United customers and avoid confusion by asking him to not use our likeness on his website.”
The video of a man being violently removed from an United Airlines flight this week comes as no surprise to the McGill professor.
United has apologized for Sunday’s incident and is reviewing its policies, and the passenger David Dao is lauching legal action against the airline over the forceful removal.
Parodies of the incident have taken off online and Cooperstock believes his website is nothing different.
“They said you can make fun of us, but you cannot have a logo that looks like ours, and you cannot have a name that looks like ours.” Cooperstock vows to keep his website up and running as long as he can in the name of free speech, at least until a court order instructs him otherwise.
“I view this as sort of an ongoing mission to make the world a better place.”
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