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Playboy wins piracy suit

The publishing giant adds another victory to its record regarding the unauthorized use of its name and photos.

Playboy Enterprises is on a roll. The company today won its latest Net trademark lawsuit, reaping an award of $3 million.

The publishing icon has ferociously scoured the Net for unauthorized uses of its famous nude pictorials, and subsequently has slapped Web site operators with costly lawsuits. The company also uses digital watermarks to tag online photos with its copyright and contact information.

A federal judge in Virginia today See special feature: Playboy pins hopes on Net handed Playboy its second online intellectual property victory this month. The ruling found Hong Kong-based AsiaFocus International and Internet Promotions liable for trademark infringement after the companies embedded the terms "Playboy" and "Playmate" within the code of their Web sites. Known as "metatags," the keywords would point online directories to the two sites when surfers searched for "Playboy."

Playboy's Cyber Club charges up to $60 per year for access to original photos and real-time Playmate chats. The company's content is undoubtedly what is luring Net users to its site, which accounts for Playboy's aggressive legal tactics.

Playboy charges that the use of metatags dilutes its trademarks. The federal judge in Virginia agreed.

"The trademarks have acquired such goodwill and secondary meaning through national and international advertising and promotion that the public has come to associate the 'Playmate' and 'Playboy' trademarks exclusively with [Playboy Enterprises]," ruled Judge Thomas Jones.

Earlier this month, Playboy was awarded $3.7 million from Five Senses Productions, a subscription-based service that filtered Usenet newsgroups for sexually explicit images. Five Senses was found liable for illegally distributing 7,500 Playboy pictures through the service and CD-ROMs.

And in December, a federal court in Texas awarded Playboy Enterprises $439,000 plus attorneys' fees in the company's case against Webbworld Incorporated, a fee-based daily service that, like Five Senses, filtered thousands of sexually oriented photos from newsgroups.

Playboy will likely leverage the victories in another case that is still pending. In March, the company sued its 1981 Playmate of the Year, Terri Welles, for $5 million because she used the term "Playmate of the Year" on her e-commerce Web site.