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Cybersquatting Not The 'American Way' - Advocacy Group

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08/24/01
Cybersquatting Not The 'American Way' - Advocacy Group
By Steven Bonisteel, Newsbytes
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A.,

23 Aug 2001, 5:46 PM CST

An organization that says it's devoted to free-speech and civil rights stands out like a sore thumb among trademark holders aiming to shut down Web site operators who make hay out of sound-alike Internet domain names. However, the political action group People For The American Way (PFAW) says freedom of expression doesn't have to include cybersquatting.

The Washington-based outfit has turned to a United Nations-backed international arbitrator in an attempt to clear of Danville, Va., from the domain peoplefortheAmericanWay.org.

Steven Hollman, an attorney representing the PFAW, told Newsbytes that the case isn't the first time that the organization has had a run-in with individuals it believed were misrepresenting the PFAW on the Internet. However, he said, the PFAW has never needed to resort to a lawsuit or, as in this case, the quasi-judicial dispute resolution process of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

In a complaint to the Arbitration and Mediation Center of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the PFAW claims that intentionally set out to deceive Web surfers by registering a domain name that was identical to its own moniker and then posting a Web site with a home page with a design that aped the PWAF's own online presence.

"The People For The American Way have been very active is promoting fee-speech rights," said Hollman. "So, it doesn't lightly interfere with the right of other businesses to make political statements."

"However, it has seen repeated instances where people have either stolen its domain name or, in one case, even replicated the entire look and feel of its Web site to promote political messages that diverge from (those of) the People For The American Way," he said.

Hollman said that one Web site operator lifted the design of the PFAW site in order to promote the appointment of John Ashcroft as George Bush's attorney general.

"Normally, people are responsive when we send them a cease-and-desist letter asking them to feel free to articulate their political message, but not to do so using the intellectual property of People For The American Way," he said.

In the complaint to WIPO, one of four organizations accredited to resolve spats under ICANN's Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, the PFAW argues that, in the U.S., First Amendment protection of free speech is afforded to wielders of someone else's trademark "only (as) part of a communicative message, not ... the source of a product or service."

"By using the (PFAW trademark) as part of a domain name, () identifies the Web site as being the product, or the forum, of (the PFAW)," the complaint says.

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