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Saturday, April 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Virgin Airlines Sues over Online Spoof

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Virgin America airlines claims Adrants Publishing defamed it on the Adrants.com Web site, in a photo of the recent plane crash in the Hudson River, under the heading: "The Hudson Crash: Just One More Reason to Fly Virgin." Virgin says it had nothing to do with the ad, but, "The posting had an express assertion by Adrants Co-Editor [Angela] Natividad about the apparent validity of the Virgin America advertisement."

Virgin says Adrants runs "a well known and popular Web site that purports to provide marketing and advertising news online and in the form of a daily email newsletter."

Virgin also sued Steve Hall and Angela Natividad, alleged co-editors of the site, and Nina Aldredge, who allegedly sent the phony ad to Natividad.

The US Airways pilot ditched Flight 1549 in the Hudson River at around 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 15, apparently after birds were sucked into the engine. No one died and Capt. Chesley Sullenberger became a national hero.

Virgin claims: "(O)n January 15, 2009 at 6 p.m. EST, defendant Natividad received from defendant Aldredge a false Virgin America advertisement which she posted on the Adrants Publishing Web site."

The complaint adds: "In the explanation from Adrants Publishing that accompanied the posting, defendant Natividad explained that 'we've seen Virgin turn ugly situations to its advantage before, making it [the fake advertisement] very much in keeping with the Virgin brand persona. The only thing saving the tribute from being in terrifically bad taste is the fact no one lost his or her life in the crash. So woot! - slather your big reds all over those news shots, V.'" (Bracketed words appear in brackets in the complaint.)

Virgin says: "Nothing could be farther from the truth. ... Virgin America deplores the fact that anyone would try to take advantage of the crash of flight 1549."

It claims that "Virgin America employees learned of this false advertisement at 11:23 p.m. on January 17."

Virgin says it called Adrants at 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 18, and demanded that the ad be removed from the Internet. It says its attorney repeated the demand in an email later that morning.

Virgin says that rather than remove the ad, Adrants posted this "update" at 3:48 p.m.: "UPDATE: Clearly, this ad is fake. A spoof. Virgin America has confirmed this. We were always suspect from the get go and didn't mean to mislead or misrepresent. So we'll state it clearly now: the ad is a spoof. It's not real. Virgin America had nothing to do with its creation."

At 8:11 p.m., Virgin says, its attorney thanked Adrants for the correction, but demanded it take down "the Virgin America image attached to the US Airways crash to mitigate the damage Virgin America has suffered and continues to suffer for Adrants' posting. Please take down the posting as soon as possible and confirm once you have done so. If Adrants chooses not to remove the posting, Virgin America will be forced to escalate the issue."

Virgin claims the false ad was not removed from the Adrants Web site until "sometime on the morning of January 19." After the ad was removed, Virgin says, "there was no retraction or other comment from Adrants despite the false ad having been posted on the worldwide Internet for over three days (72 hours). To date, defendants have not admitted fault for posting the false ad, have not provided Virgin America any information regarding its origins and have not informed Virgin America how widely the ad was disseminated."

Virgin demands punitive damages for defamation, trademark infringement and dilution, false designation, and false and deceptive advertising. It is represented by Rodger Cole with Fenwick & West.

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