Academic journal article Santa Clara High Technology Law Journal

Congress Outlaws Cybersquatting in the Wild West of the Internet

Academic journal article Santa Clara High Technology Law Journal

Congress Outlaws Cybersquatting in the Wild West of the Internet

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Veronica Sams and Steve Mount both have been accused of cybersquatting, or unlawfully "occupying a web address which might rightly belong to someone else." (3) Sams, a twenty-two month old toddler whose father registered the site in her name, "incurred the wrath of Archie Comic Book Publications [(Archie)] because the company claim[ed] it h[ad] a copyright on the name 'Veronica,' a character in its 'Archie' comic strip." (4) Likewise, Steve Mount, a thirty-one year old web designer and programmer, received a letter from Lucasfilm Ltd. (5) (Lucasfilm) lawyers asking him to relinquish the (6) domain name. (7) According to Lucasfilm, Mount's use of Tatooine.com diluted its trademark in the name Tatooine. (8) Sams and Mount occupy just two of the millions of registered Internet domain names worldwide. (9) Due to the relative ease with which Internet users like Sams and Mount may register domain names on a "first-come, first-serve" (10) basis through registration services like Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI), trademark owners like Archie and Lucasfilm are on the offensive in an attempt to defend their trademarks and throw alleged cybersquatters off their domain names. (11)

Dennis Toeppen also has been accused of being a cybersquatter. (12) In two well-known cases, Intermatic, Inc. v. Toeppen (13) and Panavision Int'l, L.P. v. Toeppen,14 the plaintiffs sued Toeppen for violating their trademark rights when he registered the and domain names. (15) But unlike Sams and Mount who did not register the or domain names with the intent to sell them to Archie or Lucasfilm, Toeppen "registered domain names for ... companies including Delta Airlines, Neiman Marcus, Eddie Bauer, Lufthansa, and over 100 other marks" in order to sell them for a profit. (16) In fact, Toeppen registered approximately 240 Internet domain names without seeking permission from any of the entities that previously used the names. (17) Toeppen is a different kind of cybersquatter--one "who appropriate[s] brand names with the sole intent of extorting money from the lawful mark owner" (18)--"a cybersquatting profiteer." (19)

Although companies like Intermatic, Inc. and Panavision International have been at the forefront of the fight against cybersquatting profiteers, they are not alone in the war against cybersquatters. Celebrities, athletes and politicians are also combating the hijacking of their names. Thomas Kaplan incited USA Networks executive, Barry Diller, when he registered the domain name and offered to sell it for ten million dollars on the Cybermultimedia web site. (20) Clint Reilly, a candidate in the 1999 San Francisco mayoral election, employed an Internet contractor named Andrew Hasse, who, earlier in the year, registered the domain names of several San Francisco politicians considering running for mayor, including that of incumbent Willie Brown. (21) Celebrities and politicians, like Diller and Brown, may have a legal cause of action against cybersquatters for unlawfully seizing their names and public identities. But cybersquatters are speculators and do not always target individuals who are currently rich and famous. Aran Smith, an Internet entrepreneur, "spent some $15,000 staking a claim to more than 200 Internet domain names, mostly the names of promising high school athletes." (22) According to Time Magazine reporter Adam Cohen, "if any of them make it big, Smith will own some valuable cyber real estate." (23)

In general, trademark owners do not file civil actions against alleged cybersquatters like Veronica Sams, Steven Mount, Thomas Kaplan and Andrew Hasse (24); however, these scenarios illustrate and exemplify the "muddled world of domain name disputes." (25) The uproar over cybersquatting is a result of "a clash of two visions of what the Internet should be: a standardized tool for business and communication, or a more freewheeling world closer to the Net's academic and techno-geek roots. …

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