- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

A Minnesota pro-life activist runs the risk of going to prison next week unless he relinquishes control of domain names that include well-known trademarks, including The Washington Post, but divert people to Web sites including some with graphic photos of aborted fetuses.
The cyber-squatting case involves William Purdy, a retired railroad engineer from South St. Paul, Minn., who said he would rather go to jail than give up control of some of the 68 domain names he has been ordered to give up.
Mr. Purdy said he is willing to transfer most of the domain names in question, including www.washingtonpost-editorialpage.com, but he plans to hold on to www.thewashingtonpostchristian.com.
"They don't deserve to have it on moral grounds," he said. "I will take no affirmative action to transfer it to them."
A federal judge ruled in July that Mr. Purdy must give up the domain names because he is taking advantage of well-known trademarks, including The Washington Post, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and McDonald's.
Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery signed an order declaring that he is in contempt, a violation that could lead to his arrest.
Of the 68 domain names Judge Montgomery ordered Mr. Purdy to relinquish, 59 include The Washington Post, according to the contempt order.
Mr. Purdy said the newspaper is a target because of its "editorial stance on abortion," which he says differs from his own pro-life stance. He argues that his decision to register the domain names and place pro-life information on the Web sites is a First Amendment issue, not a trademark-infringement issue.
But the judge said the domain names are "confusingly similar" to the trade names that belong to the plaintiffs in the case. The Washington Post Co., WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive Co., Coca-Cola Co., Pepsico Inc. and McDonald's Corp. filed suit against Mr. Purdy July 18 in U.S. District Court in Minnesota.
"None of the domain names … alert the unwary Internet user to the protest or critical commentary nature of the attached website within the language of the domain name itself," Judge Montgomery wrote.
A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. The judge said she "may be forced to impose more severe sanctions" if Mr. Purdy still is in violation of her contempt order. The companies haven't asked the judge to put Mr. Purdy in prison, she wrote in her contempt order, but that is one of the judge's options.
Thomas P. Olson, a lawyer based in the District who is representing the corporations involved in the dispute, declined to comment on the case because it is being litigated.
A U.S.-based domain name registrar, NorthShore Solutions Inc., transferred 25 domain names to The Washington Post Thursday. They included www.boycottwashingtonpost.com, which wasn't on the judge's list of domain names Mr. Purdy must turn over. They did not include www.thewashingtonpostchristian.com, which Mr. Purdy said he registered outside the country.
Legal experts said the Post, Pepsi, Coke and McDonald's want ownership of the domain names to protect the trademarks they have worked to establish.
"Companies make tremendous investments protecting their trademarks and they jealously guard them. If a company lets a cyber-squatter infringe on a trademark, it makes it that much harder to protect it against another infringer later on," said Chris Larus, an intellectual property lawyer in Minneapolis.
Companies also want to prevent association with information on Web sites that use their names but with which they have no connection, he said.
Many of the Web sites in dispute include commentary against abortion and gruesome photos, but some merely promote Mr. Purdy's views. One criticizes a Post story about conservative talk show host Bill O'Reilly.
The number of domain names Mr. Purdy registered and his willingness to go to jail make the dispute between him and the newspaper unusual, said Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa specializing in Internet law.
"I guess this highlights the extent to which some people are willing to lay down for their cause," Mr. Geist said.
Cyber-squatting cases typically involve people buying domain names that include a popular trade name with hopes of selling the Web address to the entity owning the name. President Clinton signed the 1999 Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act to protect trademark holders in domain name disputes.
"It's gotten very tough for cyber-squatters," Mr. Larus said.
The 1999 law allows trademark holders to collect damages of up to $100,000 for each domain name.
Mr. Purdy has been forced to give up other domain names in the past, including www.mycoca-cola.com and www.mymcdonalds.com, which also diverted people to pro-life Web sites.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide