Skip

July 16, 2002
1:16 PM   Subscribe

Today's brain teaser: a pro-life activist buys up a bunch of domains (full list at the bottom of this page) similar to organizations (and their directors), newspapers, and products.

Free speech or deceptive domain squatting?
posted by mathowie (40 comments total)

 
deceptive squatting - It's not going to stand up in court, esp. since ACLU and the Washington Post are recognized brands.
posted by djacobs at 1:26 PM on July 16, 2002


DO NOT CLICK ON THE LINKS at the bottom of the page.
posted by ColdChef at 1:29 PM on July 16, 2002


Kind of gives you the impression that the man is a fanatic, which I don't think is going to do anything to help his cause, it is the kind of thing which would make me dismiss him rather than listen to him. I think that reflects badly on him, it's kind of sad, like he's desperate for attention or something. How can action like this have a genuine wish behind it to inform and raise serious issues? It's a cheap trick, like he's frustrated and just lashing out mindlessly, vindictively, for the sake of revenge and spite more than anything else.

As for his cyber-squatting, I don't really care about that, except it's not acceptable in my view to register somebody else's name as a domain name and use it to, in effect, defame them, as he seems to have done.
posted by mokey at 1:30 PM on July 16, 2002


He says he has "free speech rights protected by the Constitution", but gives up the domain names every time he gets hauled into court for squatting on them. Typical.
posted by yhbc at 1:32 PM on July 16, 2002


Free speech. Let me make this clear: I am pro-choice, and would generally describe myself as on the liberal side of most issues. There is no real room for movement on this, as I see it: either you believe in free speech as a right or you don't. Free speech is not contingent on the speakers playing fair.

Apologies; I'm not that familiar with the US law here, but in the UK this would be subject to intellectual property laws. In particular, a court would ask if the defendant was trying to pass himself off as the people whose name was (nearly) approriated. In this case, he clearly wasn't. How does the cyber-squatting act work? Do the owners of the appropriated name have to have a financial interest?
posted by calico at 1:34 PM on July 16, 2002


ColdChef, didn't the articles tell you what the links lead to? But noooo, you had to click one and prove it to yourself ... hey, here's a link to that goats.cx guy - don't click on it!
posted by yhbc at 1:37 PM on July 16, 2002


yhbc: I started at the bottom. My bad.
posted by ColdChef at 1:40 PM on July 16, 2002


The problem I see is that he's using the names of well known institutions to further his cause, which is tarnishing their name. The laws against trademark dilution and tarnishment say that Tarnishment occurs when the mark is cast in an unflattering light, typically through its association with inferior or unseemly products or services. I'm not a lawyer, but it seems like he's casting them in an unflattering light.
posted by jaden at 1:53 PM on July 16, 2002


Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, prevents anyone from registering a domain name similar to a trademark if they have "a bad faith intent to profit from" that trademark.

There is no question about this, every precedent is that companies get their domain names back.
posted by statusquo at 1:53 PM on July 16, 2002


In a recent high profile judgement in the U.S. Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Judge Berle M. Schiller defined cyber-squatting or cyber-piracy as the "deliberate, bad-faith, and abusive registration of Internet domain names in violation of the rights of trademark owners."

This is certainly deliberate, and I'd say it's probably abusive and in bad faith. Notice that there is no requirement that the squatter actually be trying to pass him or herself off as the trademark owner, nor does the trademark owner need to have a financial interest.

In my opinion, a few of the domain names are probably in the clear, such as http://www.acluABORTS.com. That's likely to be viewed as an editorial use of the ACLU's name, and not an appropriation of its trademark. It's the same as writing an unfavorable review of a Ford automobile. Ford may not like it, but it's legitimate.

Use of a domain name such as http://mywashingtonpost.com, however, is pretty sketchy. That's where the squatter probably crosses the line from protected editorial commentary into trademark infringement.

On preview: jaden and status quo both make good points. However, to cast a trademark in an unflattering light is not the same as making editorial commentary. The "unflattering light" analysis usually requires somesort of deceptive practice, which my first example probably isn't, but my second example likely is.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 1:58 PM on July 16, 2002


These are gonna last all of 10 minutes myMcDonalds.com, myCoca-Cola.com? This guy's gonna have the FedEx guy on his doorstep with Cease and Desist Letters by the end of business day.
posted by bitdamaged at 2:02 PM on July 16, 2002


I (perhaps too optimistically) think these blatant ploys work against those who employ them. I did click on the abortionismurder link but it was all sad and lonely. Anti-abortion apologists seem, to this European at least, to be arguing for something with which everyone agrees - basically, babies and human beings are good - for the same reasons pro-choice defenders defend the right to produce babies and human beings that are wanted and will actually be cherished as they should be.

The one feature which moved me a little - addressing those who were uncertain about wanting to be mothers - seemed self-defeating. It's not about that, is it? You want a baby; you make love and make one. How would a child feel if she/he was told he/she only exists because some religious web site convinced his/her parents he or she shouldn't be postponed?

That said, I have to say I'm put off by anything that reeks of excessive conviction or belief, one way or the other.

Doubt is good.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 2:03 PM on July 16, 2002


I really don't mean to split hairs over this, but if most companies get their domain back, how does that help non-profit making organisations? And if you have to prove intent to profit from a misuse of a trademark, does making your point count as a profit?

I strongly disapprove of what this man is doing, but it seems to me that the arguments against his point are strong enough without having to resort to the way he made his point.

And (in turn) on my preview, monju_bosatsu, you've kind of answered my questions. But the point remains: do we think this sort of behaviour is bad and wrong, or do we not have to worry about it because his behaviour is caught by laws that were meant for other purposes?
posted by calico at 2:05 PM on July 16, 2002


But the point remains: do we think this sort of behaviour is bad and wrong, or do we not have to worry about it because his behaviour is caught by laws that were meant for other purposes?

Yes, and sort of. First, I think that using another's name to deceptively suck people to your site is wrong. Now, as I said above, a distinction must be made between editorial comments and outright deceptive practices. I think that the various ___sucks.com sites are actually useful. Clearly the the domain owner is not trying to pass themselves off as the named company; they think the named company sucks. However, when trademarked names are used deceptively in domain names, that's a whole different matter.

Second, as for whether or not the law was "meant for other purposes," that's a different question. Do we need a more targeted law? Well, Clinton signed one. Statusquo referred to it above. In addition, trademark law was designed to prohibit the deceptive use of trademarks. Just because we throw a computer into the mix doesn't mean we need a new law. Deception is still deception. Sometime the Congress doesn't quite get that, but nonetheless, trademark law works as well for domain names as it does for physical signs.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:19 PM on July 16, 2002


It's free speech, but I don't think it's particularly well executed in these cases.
posted by lilboo at 2:19 PM on July 16, 2002


Is this any different than what jessamyn did in registering takebackvermont.com? ("Take Back Vermont" was the rallying cry of the anti-civil union faction in Vermont).

I love what Jessamyn did, but I suspect I only like it because I agree with her politics.
posted by MarkAnd at 2:20 PM on July 16, 2002


How is what this guy is doing any different than this? Because he has the wrong ideology?

I'm undecided on the issue of abortion, but I loathe the tactics of some anti-abortion advocates, such as this guy. If you present a strong case for your ideology, do you really need to rely on trickery (which is what this close-but-no-cigar domain game is). But we need to be consistent in our philosophies- either we tolerate this sort of thing as protected speech, or we don't, regardless of what the message is.
posted by evanizer at 2:20 PM on July 16, 2002


evanizer: I tend to agree with you, but there is a distinction. GATT is not trademarked, and instead stands for General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Therefore, there is no trademark owner who can bring suit. It may be, in fact, that there is no entity which would have standing to bring a suit to rescind the domain.

Remember, this isn't just a free speech issue. We've got to deal with trademark law as well, which carves out significant exceptions to the First Amendment.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:25 PM on July 16, 2002


monju_bosatsu, you obvously have a better understanding of these things than I do. But when I referred to using laws outside their intended purpose, I didn't mean that because a computer was involved it suddenly wasn't covered by existing law. What I meant is that trademark law is meant to protect the right to trade under a given name. When no attempt is made to damage that trade, I wonder whether trademark law is the right weapon.

I just ask - because there's more expertise here than I could find quickly - whether the anti-cybersquatting law will help the victims in this case, given that not all of them are companies
posted by calico at 2:37 PM on July 16, 2002


Well, as it so happens, the following names are available for registration:

WILLIAMPURDY.COM
WILLIAMPURDY.NET
WILLIAMPURDY.ORG
WILLIAMPURDY.INFO
WILLIAMPURDY.BIZ
WILLIAMPURDY.US
WILLIAMPURDY.WS

Ya know, free speech and all that...should anyone be motivated enough...
posted by dejah420 at 2:41 PM on July 16, 2002


What I meant is that trademark law is meant to protect the right to trade under a given name. When no attempt is made to damage that trade, I wonder whether trademark law is the right weapon.

Not exactly. Trademark law does more than just protect the right to trade, it protects the right to use the name, in an exclusive manner, as the trademark owner sees fit. The purpose of trademark law is to prevent confusion in the minds of the consuming public as to the source of the particular goods or services. In other words, the focus of trademark law is less on the trade itself and more on deceptive practices. Think of it as a specialized hybrid of property, consumer protection, and fraud law.

Even if we focus on your view of trademark law, I could easily argue that when a squatter takes action that casts the trademark owner in an "unfavorable light," that action has materially infringed on the trademark owner's right to trade under the name.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:46 PM on July 16, 2002


dejay420, I assume your comment is made toungue-in-cheek, but in case it's not, might I point out that two wrongs don't make a right.
posted by jaden at 2:48 PM on July 16, 2002


Oops, I meant dejah420.
posted by jaden at 2:51 PM on July 16, 2002


dejay420, I assume your comment is made toungue-in-cheek, but in case it's not, might I point out that two wrongs don't make a right.

Actually it's an interesting protest mechanism for this case.

I think the guy is clearly in the wrong with most of the domains. Trademark dilution is the problem. You could argue some of the aclu domains fall into the "sucks" exception, but the hardest nuts to crack are going to be the names of the people as domains.

Anyone could buy matthaughey.com and link it to goatse, and there's nothing I could do. It doesn't necessarily misrepresent *me*, it applies to all Matt Haugheys and none of us have any more of a right to ownership of the domain than anyone else.

If you disagree with this guy's politics, it would be interesting to link his name.com to a pro abortion site. You might get this freak following you for life, but there's not a lot he can do, legally speaking.
posted by mathowie at 2:54 PM on July 16, 2002


"I don't have a lawyer because I don't need one," said Purdy...

famous. last. words.
posted by lescour at 2:56 PM on July 16, 2002


Anyone could buy matthaughey.com and link it to goatse, and there's nothing I could do. It doesn't necessarily misrepresent *me*, it applies to all Matt Haugheys and none of us have any more of a right to ownership of the domain than anyone else.

Hmmmm. I wonder if you could file a class action on behalf of all Matt Haugheys against the squatter for defamation...? *starts calculating potential billable hours*
posted by monju_bosatsu at 3:00 PM on July 16, 2002


m_b (sorry if you feel slighted by the informality) I still have problems with this (what services are non-profit making organisations providing to any given complainant? How does misuse of a name damage a name-owner's right to trade when the name owner doesn't trade?) but perhaps I shouldn't turn this into an IP law seminar.

I still think this: I don't like what the man is doing. I don't at all like his point of view. But I'm worried that because this is the sort of free speech we don't like, we'll find a way to stop it. And then we'll find ourselves stymied when it comes to protecting the sort of free speech we do like.
posted by calico at 3:09 PM on July 16, 2002


The concept of "free speech" not only implies that there is no limit to what a person can say, but also that nobody can force someone else to "say" things they don't wish to. This principle was recently upheld by the Supreme Court in United Foods vs. USDA (summary here). I'd say registering matthewbaldwin.com and having it point to an anti-beer site is more a violation of free-speech (in the sense that it attributes speech to me that I don't agree with) than an activity worthy of protection by the Establishment Clause.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 3:10 PM on July 16, 2002


Shadowkeeper: I'd say registering matthewbaldwin.com and having it point to an anti-beer site is more a violation of free-speech (in the sense that it attributes speech to me that I don't agree with) than an activity worthy of protection by the Establishment Clause.

You make a reasonable argument, shadowkeeper, but only the government can violate the First Amendment. In the case you cite, the Supreme Court actually held that the Mushroom Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Act, in mandating that fresh mushroom handlers pay assessments used primarily to fund advertisements promoting mushroom sales, violated the First Amendment.

You are also reasonable, Calico, in noting the potential complications in trademark analysis, such as the presence or absence of commercial activity. I'd recommend reading this first, and if you are still interested, I'd recommend law school. ;)
posted by monju_bosatsu at 4:21 PM on July 16, 2002


How would a child feel if she/he was told he/she only exists because some religious web site convinced his/her parents he or she shouldn't be postponed

I really don't want to derail this thread since it has been an interesting discussion so far. but I would just make the obvious point that the child would probably feel grateful to be alive
posted by boltman at 4:47 PM on July 16, 2002


The debate on abortion is rife with trickery and deception; just look at the names that the opposing sides call themselves...

Pro-life - suggests that anyone who disagrees them supports DEATH, doesn't like LIFE, and is therefore some kind of deranged murdering sadist. On top of this is the fact that many of these conservative groups don't seem to give a damn about life once the life has left the womb.

Pro-choice - suggests that anyone who disagrees with them is a fascist opponent of free will. The name doesn't specify exactly what kind of choice is being made, and what kind of free will is being crushed.

If I rally for the cause of soda machines at university dispensing Pepsi as well as Coke, does that make me "pro-Choice"? Silly example, but these people should be refered to as "anti-abortionists" and "pro-abortionists", none of this PC life/choice crap. Let's get semantic, y'all. Don't even get me started on the "War on Terror"... Terror is an emotion, for "Bob's" sake.
posted by Jimbob at 5:00 PM on July 16, 2002


either we tolerate this sort of thing as protected speech, or we don't, regardless of what the message is.

I feel that evaniser has hit the nail on the head with this. Regardless of how distasteful the message that this person is spreading, free speech is free for all or it doesn't exist. Some of the domains are most likely breaches of trademark law (as already noted) but, in many cases, he is simply exercising his right to voice his opinions. Not that different from google-bombs in some ways?

On preview - what jimbob said. Let's get these organisations to be honest about what they stand for.
posted by dg at 5:05 PM on July 16, 2002


Abortionismurder.org has been sued for cybersquatting multiple times but has given up the adopted domain names before the cases reached court, said Thomas P. Fitch, the group's director.

That's a hoot. Does anyone doubt Purdy will do the same thing before any of this goes to trial? What was the point of blurring the legitimate free speech right (www.abortNOW.com, etc) by also grabbing obviously infringing domains like www.DrinkCoke.org or www.TheAlanColmesShow.com?

He even acknowledges the issue in his email to McCullagh: "I will have a harder time with the 'exact name' domains that do NOT make a statement in the domain name itself, but my position will be that putting together the domain name with the site to which they are pointing, they do make a statement."

Yeah, that explains why you bought www.WashingtonPost.cc. He knows that won't fly in court, but he did it anyway. Why? Take a guess.
posted by mediareport at 5:35 PM on July 16, 2002


You make a reasonable argument, shadowkeeper, but only the government can violate the First Amendment.

Good point.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 5:48 PM on July 16, 2002


i think some of the domains are deceptive but others should be allowed. if i register metafiltersucks.com then that should be allowed b/c no one looking for metafilter.com would ever mistakingly type that in but mymetafilter.com is maybe more confusing and in some cases deceptive.

the whole abortion issue always seems to be argued using such extreme examples on both sides that no progress is ever made on the issue. it seems like there is a reasonable comprimise that could be made to please at least 80% of the population. the other 20% are never going to budge.
posted by ggggarret at 11:05 PM on July 16, 2002


I think ICANN has made its decision regarding misdirection, which is really what all this is about. I tend to agree with them, but I do like the xsucks.com domain names. Its fairly obvious that the site you are going to is going to be pretty critical of the x part of the domain name. It also is impossible to go there by accident which is the intent here like 'thenationalorganizationforwomen.com,' 'washingtonpost.cc', 'aclu.cc,' etc. Purdy is trying to attribute speech from these organizations or is just trying to get the typo hits. Both of which are wrong, regardless of the politics of the issue.

Purdy is squatting and making legitimite use of the domain system probably to blur the two seperate methods he's using to choose domain names. In his email he only defends the 'sucks' type domains and doesn't address the other blatant misdirectors except for www.ACLU.cc.
posted by skallas at 11:38 PM on July 16, 2002


Also, the fact that he says that aclu.cc is not 'bulletproof' and indefensible shows that he knows what he is doing is wrong and is acting illegally but simply doesn't care. That really sums of what a fanatic is and futhers the anti-abortion crowd stereotype. He's only hurting his cause.
posted by skallas at 11:41 PM on July 16, 2002


The Sun-Times story contains an error. Garycoleman.com is actually owned by a guy in New York named John Barry. He also has davidgallagher.com, which I wouldn't mind owning. Both URLs redirect to abortionismurder.org.

Barry seems like less of an activist and more of an old-fashioned cybersquatter. His company name in the whois data is 'Domains for Sale Inc.'
posted by davidfg at 7:49 AM on July 17, 2002


the whole abortion issue always seems to be argued using such extreme examples on both sides that no progress is ever made on the issue. it seems like there is a reasonable comprimise that could be made to please at least 80% of the population.

Here's your compromise: abortion should be decided by the states, there is no mention in the Constitution that the Federal Government has jurisdiction on this issue. That way, liberal states like California and New York would probably opt for unlimited abortion laws, and more conservative states, like Ohio, would ban partial-birth abortions. We did in fact pass a ban in Ohio, but a federal judge overturned it. I think two abortion clinics in Dayton have been shut down because of health violations, where women have died of bleeding due to negligence on the part of these 'doctors'. The people of each state should have more true choice on this matter and be able to live with the consequences of their decisions.

I also think, of course, that states should determine their own euthanasia and drug laws, but my brand of decentralization of power probably offends people who want to use the massive power of the federal government to shape society in their image.
posted by insomnyuk at 8:01 AM on July 17, 2002


insomnyuk, for once, i agree with you. the interpretation of the Constitution that underlies Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood makes no sense and should be discarded. It is a particularly ugly example of justices deciding to simply preempt the democratic process in favor of their own feelings about an issue. I'd also agree that Congress should stay out of it as well, although I would stop short of arguing that it would not be within their ennumerated powers to regulate abortion if they chose to.
posted by boltman at 3:11 PM on July 17, 2002


« Older Cheney in Numbers.   |   Invasion of the mall walkers? (NY Times) Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post