This is the story of my successful fight to protect my Internet domain.
My name is Chip Rosenthal. In February of 1990--over a decade ago--I registered my domain UNICOM.COM. That's before the World Wide Web even existed in the United States. All this time, I've been using the domain to publish software and information.
In December 2001, a company called Unicom Systems, Inc. of Mission Hills, CA. tried to steal my domain away from me. They did not follow the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy--maybe because they knew I was the rightful owner.
Instead, they filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court in California. They made ludicrous charges, like I was cybersquatting on a domain I registered over a decade ago. They even falsified accusations, such as I tried to extort $50,000 from Corry S. Hong, their President and CEO.
It didn't matter that the lawsuit was frivolous, because this was a case of reverse domain name hijacking. They knew if I didn't show up in court to defend myself, I'd default on the lawsuit and lose my domain.
Well, I didn't default. Instead, I fought--and I won. The court threw these jokers out on their butts.
This web site documents my fight.
This website presents news and information on my fight to save my domain.
- Many of the case documents are available for download and viewing. They are listed in the Case Documents sidebar to the right.
- There is a summary overview of the case.
- Once I decided to fight to keep my domain, I started a weblog to record events of the case as it unfolded. (Last updated: 26 Feb 2002)
- I kept a guestbook for people to sign and leave comments. Hundreds of people did, including some minor celebrities. The guestbook is now closed, but you can read the comments people made.
- My domain fight was widely reported. The media page lists the articles and web sites that covered the case.
I'm grateful to the hundreds of people who showed their support while these events transpired. In return, I'd like to pass along some of what I learned, to help people who may be in a similar situation.
Typically, the process begins with a cease and desist letter. This is a very scary letter that accuses you of all sorts of terrible things (trademark infringement, unfair competition, cybersquatting, leaving the seat up) and demands you hand over the domain.
If you are the rightful owner of the domain, there is a good chance you can defend yourself successfully. The bad news is it isn't easy, and it could be quite expensive.
Increasingly, companies have been using abusive C&D letters to threaten individuals. In February 2002, a coalition of law schools and civil liberties organizations formed the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse to document and remedy the problem.
So, the first thing you should do is visit their section on domain disputes. You will find information on the domain dispute process. Also, they have form for you to report your C&D letter. I strongly urge you to do so.
Based on my experience, here are some thoughts on approaching a domain dispute:
- Get competent legal counsel. Not the lawyer who handled your divorce, but one who practices intellectual property law. Even better, get an I.P. lawyer who understands the net. A search engine may be helpful, since a net-wise lawyer presumably would have a web site.
- Litigation is expensive, but letters are cheap. (Relatively speaking.) A lawyer who understands domain disputes should be able to knock out a good response to the C&D in just a few hours time. If you assert that you will vigorously defend your rights, it may be enough to make them go away. In my case it didn't, but it was still worth it.
- If you write your own response to the C&D, be very careful. Stick to the facts of the matter. I'd be very wary of offering to make some sort of settlement. They may turn it around and accuse you of arbitrage.
- Try to stay sane. Corporations know no anguish. To them, it's just business. As this web site shows, I tried to have a little fun with the case--because the alternative was too ugly.
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