Hacker Quarterly: Still Standing Strong for the Free Flow of Information and Speech

Bloodied but not bowed from recent courtroom skirmishes, 2600 Magazine is courting fresh legal battles by registering straight-from-the-hip domain names referring to large corporations, such as “General Motors”, and “NBC”.

Bloodied but not bowed from recent courtroom skirmishes, 2600 Magazine is courting fresh legal battles by registering straight-from-the-hip domain names referring to large corporations, such as “General Motors”, and “NBC”.

In recent weeks the magazine has received letters threatening legal action from General Motors, NBC and Verizon, demanding the hacker quarterly turn over a series of rude domain names it has registered.

Only last month, 2600 lost a high-profile court case brought by the Motion Picture Association of America for posting links to DeCSS, a piece of software that can circumvent the encryption system on DVDs.

The latest cease-and-desist letter came from General Motors, the world’s largest auto maker, which objects to 2600’s registration of “FuckGeneralMotors.com.”

FuckGeneralMotors.com, according to the letter, constitutes unauthorized use of the “General Motors” trademark.

“General Motors is a registered trademark of General Motors Corporation and has been used by General Motors for more than 70 years,” the letter says. “Your registration of Fuckgeneralmotors.com domain name constitutes a trademark infringement.”

GM demands that the website be turned over within 14 days of the letter, or by Oct. 25.

Charles Ellerbrock, the General Motors attorney who sent 2600 the letter, said that in line with a lot of other companies, General Motors is protecting its trademarks.

“If every factory making General Motors burned down tomorrow and all our dealers were flooded out, the banks would be lining up to lend us money to start making vehicles again because the name General Motors is a very important asset,” he said. “It’s the same story for Coca Cola and the Ford Motor Company. In my estimation it is the most important asset a company has, and for that reason we need to protect it.”

Ellerbrock said General Motors had sent out a handful of similar cease-and-desist letters to other website owners in recent weeks, but he couldn’t remember which ones.

He said GM will not necessarily take 2600 to court, but will review the case when the two-week deadline expires.

Attorney Dave Dolkas, an expert in copyright law, said if GM and NBC took 2600 to court, they would likely sue under the Lanham Act, a federal statute protecting against trademark infringement and dilution.

“The use of General Motors dilutes the mark,” he said. “It defames the mark. That’s one of the tests of dilution. It’s tarnishment.”

During the MPAA court case, 2600 unsuccessfully mounted a free-speech defense, arguing that links on the Internet to the DeCSS software were protected by the First Amendment. The court disagreed.

Dolkas said he didn’t fancy the chances of 2600 successfully using the free-speech defense if it is sued for trademark infringement.

“Yeah, you can make a free-speech argument but I don’t think it’s going to fly,” said Dolkas, who is a partner with Gray, Cary, Ware and Freidenrich of Palo Alto, California. “You can’t run roughshod over someone’s trademark rights on the basis of free speech. Further, I think a judge would say, ‘Why is this speech?’

“It’s part of a mark in a domain name to defame a company. It’s not free speech,” Dolkas said.

“Their (GM’s) logic completely escapes us,” says a posting on the 2600 site. “This is a little thing called speech which, even when offensive, is entitled to protection.

“That is one of the reasons why registering such sites is an important act — you can see the utter arrogance of these people who think that they can actually control when and where people speak their corporate name.”

2600 asks readers to start watchdog sites that it would link to from the FuckGeneralMotors.com site.

“This is an issue of speech and we need to send a message that free speech is something we just cannot back down on,” the editorial said.

“We find ourselves facing no fewer than five lawsuits at the moment in what can only be interpreted as a last-ditch attempt by corporate America to take us out of the picture once and for all,” said another editorial on the site. “We will not and cannot back down on such an important matter.”

Despite numerous attempts, 2600’s publisher Eric Corley, aka Emmanuel Goldstein, could not be reached for comment.

In the past few weeks, 2600 has also received threatening legal letters from Diageo, owner of the Guinness Book of World Records (for GuinessRecords.com), NBC (for registering FuckNBC.com) and Verizon (for VerizonReallySucks.com).

However, Verizon dropped its case last month after discovering VerizonReallySucks.com was a parody site and not an attempt at cybersquatting. The company had been pursuing about 200 alleged cybersquatters who had registered sites with “Verizon” in the domain name.

“It turned out 2600 was the one exception,” Verizon spokesman Larry Plumb told the Washington Post. “Once we saw it met the standards of fair use, we decided not to pursue it. We’re out to defend our brand against confusion and dilution, not squelch free speech.”

Author: Leander Kahney

News Service: Wired News

URL: http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,39585,00.html