5 Famous Domain Name Disputes

From entertainment to politics to the unfortunate high school teenager, domain name disputes do not fail to entertain.

Domain name disputes seem to be all the rage these days. With some domain names selling for millions of dollars, it is no wonder that there are several very famous domain name disputes.

From entertainment to politics to the unfortunate high school teenager, domain name disputes do not fail to entertain.

Bruce Springsteen vs. BruceSpringsteen.com

In 2001, Bruce Springsteen, one of the most famous musicians of the past century, lost a domain name dispute against a man named Jeff Burgar.

Burgar owned a website named BruceSpringsteen.com, and claimed he only wanted to use the website as a fan page dedicated to Springsteen.

Whether or not that was truthful remains an interesting topic of discussion, because Burgar also owned over 1500 other domain names, several of which have been subject to legal action from big names such as Mariah Carey and Hewlett Packard.

Nonetheless, when Bruce Springsteen began this domain name dispute against Burgar, it was clear that Burgar knew legal action was headed his way. In the end, WIPO found in favor of Burgar after he presented evidence far above what is normally asked for to prove one’s case.

Specifically, Burgar was able to successfully argue that there was no evidence to support that Springsteen’s name was protected under common law and there was no evidence that the website harmed Springsteen’s reputation.

Surprisingly, Springsteen’s official website is now BruceSpringsteen.net.

Ron Paul vs. RonPaul.com

Ron Paul has been running for president since the 1980’s, and as a result has gained a lot of supporters. RonPaul.com is a website made by these supporters of Ron Paul; however, it is completely independent of Ron Paul.

In 2013, Ron Paul wanted the RonPaul.com domain name, but the fans that owned and operated the website did not want to simply hand it over free of charge.

Instead, they offered Ron Paul two options: either freely take RonPaul.org, which the fans also owned, or pay for RonPaul.com. For some strange reason, Ron Paul decided neither offer was good enough and sued the owners of RonPaul.com for both that domain name and for RonPaul.org.

To reiterate, Ron Paul sued his own supporters for operating a Ron Paul fan site that they created for his benefit. This just doesn’t seem like a smart thing for Ron Paul to do, and the WIPO panel that decided this case found similarly.

WIPO found in favor of the fans that operated RonPaul.com because they were using the domain name without intent for commercial gain, and the website provided a place for political speech, which is an important cornerstone of the First Amendment.

Interestingly, the WIPO panel found that Ron Paul was guilty of reverse domain name hijacking, meaning that he filed a complaint in bad faith against the rightful owners of the domain name in an effort to harass or intimidate them.

In hindsight, Ron Paul probably should have taken the free RonPaul.org.

City of Quebec vs. Quebec.com

In 1998, Anything.com strategically registered the domain name Quebec.com. Fifteen years later, Quebec decided to sue Anything.com in order to use the domain name for government purposes.

Quebec desperately argued that Quebec.com was confusing to people because they would believe the domain was run by the government of Quebec, and that Anything.com was committing copyright infringement and acting in bad faith.

In the end, WIPO found in favor of Anything.com because the City of Quebec had failed to prove all of the counts that it alleged.

The final nail in the coffin seemed to be that Quebec had waited 15 years to file a complaint against Anything.com, and thus had failed to pursue its remedies in a timely manner.

Interestingly, like Jeff Burgar in the above Bruce Springsteen debacle, Anything.com had also purchased a large number of domain name’s, which may be indicative of cybersquatting.

However, that did not help Quebec’s case.

Further, Anything.com alleged that Quebec was committing reverse domain name hijacking, using a similar argument like that in Ron Paul’s domain name dispute.

However, the WIPO panel found that Quebec’s motivation for their claim had nothing to do with intimidation or harassment, unlike that of Ron Paul’s domain name dispute.

Microsoft vs. MikeRoweSoft

Microsoft is a multibillion dollar electronics company run by the billionaire Bill Gates.

MikeRoweSoft.com was a web design business run by a high school teenager named Mike Rowe.

Mike Rowe thought it was funny that his name sounded a lot like the famous company’s, and decided to use that humor to help promote his business online so that he could save money for college.

Apparently, Microsoft did not find this a laughing matter, and decided to take legal action against the high school teenager in 2001. After first offering a settlement of $10, Mike Rowe flatly refused and countered with $10,000, an amount that he believed reflected the time and energy he had devoted to his website.

Microsoft rejected Mike’s counteroffer, and instead sent him a 25-page cease and desist letter which claimed he was cybersquatting.

While both sides had valid arguments if they had gone to court, Mike Rowe eventually went to the press and gave Microsoft one of its worst public relations nightmares.

Eventually, Mike Rowe and Microsoft reached an out of court settlement, where Mike received an Xbox, amongst several other things.

The Curious Case of Whitehouse.com

This isn’t necessarily a domain name dispute, but it is still very relevant to this topic. Back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, many history and government teachers in the United States told their students to look up information on the White House website, which subsequently led a lot of young students to type “whitehouse.com” into their search engines.

Surprisingly, the .com address led to an adult website, and many teachers found themselves having to explain to many angry parents that they actually wanted their students to visit “whitehouse.gov.”

While this didn’t lead to a domain name dispute specifically, the Clinton administration sent the owner of whitehouse.com a cease and desist letter that challenged the website’s right to use the domain name as a marketing device.

However, the cease and desist letter had no effect, and the only reason that the website stopped being an adult website was because the owner’s son was entering kindergarten at the time.

Interestingly, in response to the calamity caused by the website, the US Government enacted the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.

Conclusion

Legal issues surrounding domain names are tricky.

While the internet has been around for a while now, in the legal world it’s like the internet just happened yesterday. Courts and legal standards haven’t really caught up.

Do you have any good domain name stories? Let me know in the comments.