Sportsbiztech

Sports, business & technology

What’s in a name?

At the recently-concluded Search Engine Strategies Conference & Expo in New York, I stopped by the kiosk for Dozier Internet Law and asked a couple of the lawyers there to tell me what some of the most pressing issues were concerning sports, technology and the law. They immediately said online identity theft, particularly when it came to reusing images and swiping names for URLs.

The latter sounded particularly appealing to investigate. Surely there have been some stories of crazed fans, crazed fans and even more crazed fans snapping up URLs not with the intention of building Web sites, but to eventually profit from a trademark that belongs to someone else by selling said URL to that same someone else. It’s a practice called “cybersquatting,” and for athletes and sports teams, the issue has lingered for years with varied results. Those seeking to reclaim the cyberspace that they think is rightfully theirs can initiate an arbitration proceeding under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy rather than file a lawsuit, which costs more and takes more time to process.

A look into the historical database of proceedings on the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) Web site is pretty telling. Everyone and everything from celebrities to companies to movie titles to spelling variations (like deliberate typos) are listed here, complete with rulings. There are way too many sports examples to cite, but here are some from the WIPO database, while others that didn’t make it to proceedings are listed here anyway for sheer entertainment value. You be the judge:

Domain

What happened

Result

Danmarino.com

Dan Marino himself registered the domain but forgot to renew, so someone else snatched up the name.

WIPO ruled in 2000 that the domain be transferred back to Marino.

 

Giambi.com

(last name of baseball players Jason and Jeremy Giambi)

The Giambis said that their surname alone was famous enough. The brothers also complained of being ripped off because they offered $500 for the URL but Tom Meagher, who registered it, wanted $12,000. (And you make HOW much?)

WIPO ruled in favor of Meagher, stating he bought the domain first, so he could do as he wished with it. (Also, neither of the brothers’ first names appeared in the URL, which reportedly may have played a role in the ruling.)

JaapStam.com

Oliver Cohen, then affiliated with Carnegie Mellon University, had been the one identified as the registrar when the complaint was filed in 2000.

WIPO ruled that the domain be transferred to the former Dutch international and Manchester United soccer player.

JacksonvilleJaguars.com

Rusty Rahe, who bought the domain, also purchased a number of other URLs containing the names of four other NFL teams in 1997. One of the reasons stated for doing so? He said “that his use of the Domain Names was for noncommercial education of his children Jordan (age 10) and Alexa (age 8).”

WIPO ruled that all URLs be transferred to their respective teams, then closed with the following: “The Presiding Panelist also encourages Respondent’s children Jordan and Alexa to continue using and learning about the Internet. Dispute resolution is a common and necessary part of using the Internet. The transfer of the Domain Names to Complainants should not discourage Jordan and Alexa from choosing other domain names unrelated to Complainants and participating in this wonderful, new world of information sharing.” Wow.

Marianorivera.com

SFX, which represents the Yankees reliever, wrote a letter to the Webmaster in July 2007. Unlike other cases, this isn’t a situation of cybersquatting – a fan actually does maintain this site, which appears to be devoid of ads.

Still pending.
Mar. 25 update: The Webmaster wrote to Sportsbiztech to say that SFX had, in fact, sent the letter to him in error and that he could continue operating as usual.  Read more in the comments below…

Michaeljordan.org

Previously owned by the Progressive Universal Life Church, who let the domain expire in March 2004.

But did His Airness buy it? No. The current site is now a spam site with Jordan’s picture on it. Interestingly, .com and .net are not official sites either, as MJ opted for campaign-driven URLs provided by Nike.

Phoenixcoyotes.com

Firm who owned the URL offered to sell it to the pro hockey team for a six-digit amount. They refused to buy it.

When the URL expired, the Coyotes purchased it and it now redirects to coyotes.nhl.com.

Oh, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Check out the database on the WIPO site at http://www.wipo.int/amc/en/domains/cases.html.

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March 25, 2008 - Posted by | Internet law, Web sites | , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. Hello,

    I run MarianoRivera.com and I wanted to let you know there is no WIPO case (never was) and that there is nothing pending. The situation was resolved.

    Please see: http://www.marianorivera.com/sfxbaseballdispute.php

    I appreciate your time.

    Thanks,

    Patrick

    Comment by Patrick O'Keefe | March 25, 2008 | Reply

  2. Patrick,

    Thanks for your comment. I am aware that the case never made it to WIPO (see sentences just prior to the table stating that the domains featured were a combination of WIPO rulings and non-WIPO cases). But thanks for including the link — glad to hear that everything was resolved!

    Comment by sportsbiztech | March 25, 2008 | Reply

  3. Thanks. No problem. I did read those sentences, but felt they could still, potentially, leave something to interpretation, so I just wanted to be 100% definitive.

    I appreciate the quick update.

    Patrick

    Comment by Patrick O'Keefe | March 25, 2008 | Reply


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