Tasty Animals

Intellectual property rules


Don't mock animal rights activists—they might take you to court. Michael Doughney found that out when he borrowed the acronym of the world's most prominent animal rights group to create www.peta.org, the People Eating Tasty Animals site—"a resource for those who enjoy eating meat, wearing fur and leather, hunting, and the fruits of scientific research."

Late last summer, a U.S. appeals court ordered Doughney to give up the PETA domain name, agreeing with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that it was an infringement on its trademark. The judges also found that Doughney had violated the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, a law passed several years after the obviously fake PETA site went online.

The act permits judges to apply it retroactively, if they find that a defendant acted in "bad faith" with intent to profit. Doughney dug his own grave on that point by remarking to a reporter that PETA should buy the domain name if they weren't happy with how he was using it. But Doughney's lawyer, G. Gervaise Davis, calls the bad faith charge absolutely absurd: "The guy has never sold a domain name to anybody," although he owns dozens. And the PETA site clearly wasn't designed to make a buck.

The case suggests that trademark rights trump fair use. That should make even PETA activists wary, since the group regularly lampoons companies' trademarks and slogans in its campaigns.

Most famous is its "Got Cancer?" campaign, which by playing off the "Got Milk?" slogan mocks an official trademark of the National Milk Processor Promotion Board. But most infamous were the "Got Prostate Cancer?" billboards, featuring New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani with a milk mustache. PETA put up the billboards shortly after the mayor announced he was stricken with the potentially fatal disease.