Carla Virga, a secretary from Yuba City, California, was upset with the Memphis, Tennessee-based company Terminix for not discovering some pest problems in the home she purchased. In September 1997, after losing her own lawsuit against the company, she created a Web site (www.syix. com/emu) to tell her story and to "forewarn people that they cannot count on legal documents, the legal system, or State of California licensing agencies." She also added the word "Terminix" to the electronic codes in her site known as "meta tags," so when people punched "Terminix" into popular search engines, her critical site popped up along with Terminix's official one.
Terminix sued her for libel, but a California state court dismissed the case for lack of merit in April 1998 and ordered the company to pay Virga's attorney's fees. In October 1999, the company decided to try its luck in its home state, filing a trademark suit against Virga in Tennessee. She fought back, and Terminix dropped its case in March.
In a similar case, U-Haul is suing John Osborne and Glenda Woodrum over a Web site called U-Hell, on which the pair tells the story of an eight-hour move that became a week-long ordeal (www.coyotes.org/ ~consumer/uhell). U-Haul first filed its federal suit in Arizona, charging the couple with trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and libel. When the case was dismissed on technical grounds, U-Haul sued again in Georgia. A jury trial is set for October.
U-Haul might benefit from listening to Terminix Vice President Steve Good, who says his company dropped the case because it was more "productive for us to harness the power of the Internet in ways to better serve our customers." Terminix plans to create a site where customers can post their experiences with the company, be they good or bad. "We will respond to bad very quickly," promises a relaxed Good.