United Airlines vs. Untied.com: Site at risk after Federal Court decision

If you support freedom of speech and the right to criticize a multi-billion dollar corporation, please help keep it alive by donating to my legal defense fund.

Untied.com has been a thorn in the side of United Airlines since 1997, exposing United's mistreatment of its passengers and employees alike. This site predates United Airline's own united.com by almost two years In 2012, following the disastrous (for passengers) merger of Continental and United, the merged airline has been working to silence its most vocal critic, trying to shut down this website through legal proceedings. I have resisted these efforts to my greatest ability, doing my best to maintain my freedom as a passenger rights advocate to criticize the airline through a combination of parody and public shaming.

As expected of United Airlines, their lawyers played dirty. Throughout the entirety of the proceedings, the most unfriendly airline strenuously denied its true intent, going so far as to hide an incriminating email in which one of the airline's senior employees wrote, "We're working on shutting it down". However, at the last day of trial before the Federal Court, United suggested that I should be ordered to stop using the domain name, unTIED.com, and then wrote to the Court:

"If the Court finds in favour of United Airlines and determines that an injunction should issue, the injunction needs to be clearly understood by the parties, and in particular the Defendant. As such, the Court may need to consider ordering the Defendant to transfer ownership of the domain name and other internet presences to ensure the injunction is clear and will be respected."

Although not acceding to this outrageous request, the judgment from the Federal Court, received on June 23, 2017, nevertheless comes close:

[150] ... The Defendant may retain the use of the domain name www.untied.com - however, this must not be in association with the same services as provided by the Plaintiff.

Keeping in mind the position argued by United, that one of its "services" is dealing with passenger complaints, this would mean that the injunction would prevent Untied.com from existing as a site hosting passenger complaints against United.

I feel that I have no choice but to bring this decision to the Federal Court of Appeal. Even if the wheels of justice are stacked against me as a self-represented litigant, defending myself against a massive corporation with virtually unlimited resources, I don't want to throw in the towel in defeat. This is why I am appealing for your help.

The fight over the last five years has taken a heavy toll, in particular on my time, but has also involved non-trivial financial costs. I am most grateful to the many readers who have contributed to my legal defence fund, which has helped cover most of these costs. However, without the assistance of experienced legal counsel for the appeal, I remain at a significant disadvantage.

Please consider contributing so that I can engage legal counsel for the appeal process.

Untied.com has served for many years as a valuable resource for passengers and employees to fight for their rights. With your help, I hope to continue to do so.

Note: PayPal requires that the donation amount is entered first, before country is selected; otherwise, it assumes you're in Canada.

This site exists to:

Background:

Trial in Quebec Superior Court was held April 15-20, 2016 and in Federal Court December 5-8, 2016. Prior to both trials, United was willing to settle for minor face-saving concessions. At the last minute before trial in Quebec Superior Court, United offered to drop its SLAPP suit if Cooperstock would agree to remove the work contact information for some of its senior employees and henceforth, only provide passengers with a legal contact of United's own choosing. But after having to invest four years of his time and energy into an onerous legal battle, Cooperstock held fast on a matter of principle: United had to be held accountable for its effort to abuse the court process to silence its critic.

At trial before the Quebec Superior Court, United sought an injunction that would order Cooperstock "to refrain from ever posting the names and contact information of any of Airline Plaintiffs' employees on any website". an injunction to prevent Cooperstock from posting workplace contact details, available from numerous other websites, of senior airline employees with positions of authority for customer-related issues, and in particular, those that related to legal claims against the airline. United maintained that:

  • United's senior legal counsel have nothing to do with passengers' legal claims.
    Notwithstanding other evidence to the contrary, there is the ironic example of Brett Hart, United's General Counsel, who was directly responsible for Customer Care.
  • Another of its senior employees, whose workplace contact details were listed on Untied.com, has nothing to do with customer relations.
    The LinkedIn profile for that employee continues to identify him as "Managing Director, Customer Solutions".
  • The mere fact that these lawyers receive, on average, one email per day and one voice mail per week from passengers or attorneys, constitutes "a flood of harassment" that necessitated United's lawsuit against Cooperstock.

Before the Federal Court, United sought an injunction to prevent Cooperstock's parody of United's website. United argued that:

  • Untied.com's redesign in 2012 created passenger confusion.
    Untied.com has been parodying the look of United's banner since at least 2007 (see Untied.com and United from the Internet Archive). Since 2011, Untied.com extended the parody to poke fun at United's entire home page (see Untied.com and United for 2011).
  • The pop-up dialog that greets visitors to Untied.com is an admission that the site creates confusion.
    In fact, the pop-up was added specifically as a goodwill gesture to address Untied's alleged concerns about customer confusion.
  • A few passengers in recent years referred, in subsequent correspondence, to the complaint ids assigned by Untied.com, indicating passenger confusion.
    Out of over 30,000 complaints received against United Airlines, there have been approximately 40 instances of passengers referring to the Untied.com-assigned complaint id, with approximately 2/3 of them predating 2011 (during which approximately 2/3 of the total complaints were submitted to Untied.com). Similarly, occasional instances of passengers disclosing non-redacted personal details such as their MileagePlus numbers in their complaints submitted to Untied.com go back to the earliest days of this website, in proportion to the number of complaints posted each year. If these can be considered evidence of confusion, it suggests that such confusion is extremely rare.
  • Cooperstock provides a "service", as understood by the Canadian Trade-marks Act, by posting and forwarding passenger complaints to United Airlines, and providing information about the legal rights of passengers and employees.
    There is no commercial element to Untied.com, nor any remuneration received for these activities, which are carried out solely for the purpose of consumer rights activism.
  • Cooperstock retained a passenger's "culturally insensitive comment" in a feature posting regarding United's refusal to provide a refund for services not rendered, in which he included a photograph of himself wearing a hat sent by an anonymous United Airlines employee. He operates other websites, including one that criticizes his own employer and parodies its logo. He also intervened with Air Canada on behalf of another passenger, and initiated numerous small claims actions against other companies.
    Presumably, United's lawyers raised all of these "accusations" to smear Cooperstock as a troublemaker. Ok, Cooperstock is a zealous consumer rights advocate who fights for what he believes is right. So what?

Many thanks for your support.

Questions and Answers
Why do you operate and maintain Untied.com?
Why are the airlines' cases meritless?
What is a SLAPP suit?
Why is this a SLAPP suit?
Why does Cooperstock not comply with the airlines' demands?
Are United's employees upset with Cooperstock?
What does Untied.com do with the complaints received?
What impact has Untied.com had?
Did Cooperstock offer to work for United Airlines as a paid consultant?
Does the confusion of Untied.com with United's own web site hurt their business?
What should United do differently to become the best airline possible?
Timeline
  • Jul. 16, 2012: United expresses "concerns" regarding Untied.com.
  • Jul. 16, 2012: United requests removal of work contact information for senior employees and change of site logo.
  • Aug.-Oct., 2012: Cooperstock adds prominent disclaimers and a pop-up dialog to the site, making clear that his site is not affiliated with the airline, and discouraging readers from misuse of the work contact information for senior airline employees.
  • Nov. 19, 2012: United and Continental sue Cooperstock in the Federal Court of Canada and the Superior Court of Quebec.
  • Feb. 15, 2013: Quebec Superior Court rules on Cooperstock's motion to dismiss.
  • Sep. 27, 2013: Quebec Court of Appeal returns file to Superior Court for a new hearing on motion to dismiss.
  • Jun. 3, 2014: Quebec Superior Court rules on Cooperstock's motion to dismiss.
  • Sep. 27, 2016: Quebec Superior Court grants United's injunction.
  • Jan. 16, 2017: Quebec Court of Appeal dismisses appeal of injunction (without hearing appeal).
 
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