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06|28|2007 03:06 pm EDT

Vulcan Puts the Pinch on Domainers and Google

by Adam Strong in Categories: Legal Issues, PPC industry, Registrars, Search Engines

vulcan nerve pinchMore details have come to light on a story that first broke by George Kirikos on DomainState.com. Originally, it appeared that Vulcan Golf had filed yet another lawsuit against some of the “usual suspects”. However, Vulcan’s suit is more ambitious than just going after the portfolio owners or the parking companies that are named in the case such as IREIT, Dotster, Sedo and Oversee. This time they go right after the source of the revenue stream and name Google as a defendant. This is a first time for Google to be brought into a seemingly “domainer-related” case.

After reviewing the 121 page document it is also interesting to note that the lawsuit is in fact a putative class action lawsuit brought by Vulcan “on behalf of itself and others similarly situated” alleging violiations of trademark infringement, ACPA violations and RICO claims. This seems to be a very broad reaching suit. I’m surprised more parking companies and Yahoo weren’t also named. However the ‘John Does I-X’ they also include seem to take care of naming any and all parking companies, registrars, domainers, but not seemingly search feed providers.

On information and belief, at all relevant times, other “Parking Companies,” registrants and domain registrars, the identities of which are unknown to Lead Plaintiff, participate in the the Illegal Infringement Scheme engaging in “domain tasting” and “domain kiting” (as defined herein) referred to herein as John Does I-X (collectively, the “Co-Conspirators”) willingly conspired with other Defendants in the Illegal Infringement Scheme and in their fraudulent, illegal, and deceptive actions, including but not limited to RICO violations and various state law violations . ..

The suit also points out hundreds of examples of typo domains that are monetized currently by Google including names with the www , com and http added to the domain such as : wwwvulcangolf.com , httpautotrader.com , ikeacom.com . No doubt, all of these companies in the examples will be solicited by the lead attornies to jump on the class-action bandwagon.

Other juicy tidbits from the suit include the following quote :

Defendants directly collude and conspire to commercially profit from this massive ‘illegal infringement scheme’ carried out through Defendant Google’s well established and actively developed international online/Internet marketing and advertising networks and programs, for the knowing purpose of illegal commercial gain . . . .

The paper also points out how Google and parking companies misrepresent that they use filtering technology to scrub out potentially infringing domains. Pointing to Googles own policy on Adsense that states that domains submitted may not contain trademark infringments.

Aftermarket sales of domains that infringe on trademarks are also brought to light. The case documents domains such as mypsace.com, myspac.com, and ebumsworld.com that were all sold for five-figure prices. Once again, more plaintiffs I’m sure that will be added to the class-action.

Eric Goldman Professor of law at Santa Clara University School of Law sheds some light on the case at CircleID.

Pro: Google and the domainers could point out that consumers who access these domain names are either going to see a 404 or a page of putatively relevant paid links, and the latter is more useful to them. In fact, according to this study, ads on parked automotive-related domains convert at 2X ads on search engines. So, perhaps these ad pages are more helpful to consumers than 404 pages.

Con: Trademark owners complain about the typosquatting nature of most domainer pages. Indeed, Google is uncharacteristically solicitous of trademark owners upset by parked domains—in contrast to Google’s normal policy that it won’t disable trademarked keywords, Google will completely disable ads on parked domain names at the trademark owner’s request. This raises the lurking issue about whether search engines can impose opt-out obligations on IP owners . . .

This is a big suit. The fact that it’s a class-action and that there are multiple “John Does” will make a bigger impact in the domain space that past suits. Going after Google is a pretty big deal in “domainerland”. The decisions made in this case could be a landmark that changes how domains are registered and monetized and have a very dramatic impact on domain monetization.

Download the case and follow more on this story as it unravels at the DomainState thread.

Spock picture from wikipedia

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10 Comments

Mr. Deleted

June 28, 2007 @ 9:01 pm EDT

This too shall pass.

Eric

July 7, 2007 @ 12:17 am EDT

This is exactly what I expected to find out after reading the title Domain Name News. Thanks for informative article

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