Recently retired Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is being mocked as a hypocrite by those who live to mock him (such as Gawker) and attacked for turning his back on his own principles by some disillusioned fans, because he wants the current users of the the domain name RonPaul.com to give it to him.
What's more, he is willing to follow the procedures set by the governing body of Internet domain names, the procedures the domain name owners agreed to as part of their ownership of the name, to get it back when they informed Paul they wanted $250,000 for the name and its accompanying mailing list.
The lament of the current owners. Excerpt:
On May 1st, 2008 we launched a grassroots website at RonPaul.com that became one of the most popular resources dedicated exclusively to Ron Paul and his ideas. Like thousands of fellow Ron Paul supporters, we put our lives on hold and invested 5 years of hard work into Ron Paul, RonPaul.com and Ron Paul 2012. Looking back, we are very happy with what we were able to achieve with unlimited enthusiasm and limited financial resources.
Last month, after Ron Paul expressed regret on the Alex Jones show over not owningRonPaul.com…dozens of supporters urged us to contact Ron Paul to work out a deal….
The value we put on the deal was $250k; we are getting our mailing list appraised right now but we are confident it is easily worth more than $250k all by itself. Claims that we tried to sell Ron Paul "his name" for $250k or even $800k are completely untrue…
Their letter to Paul includes this offer:
That would include a copy of our 170,000 strong RonPaul.com email list; these supporters proactively signed up for our email updates, they expect and welcome frequent communications, and they are completely "untapped" in terms of donations. This means that you (and/or Campaign For Liberty) could easily make back the purchase price in a matter of days. Only you can put this list to its best possible use, which is why we'd include it as a free bonus with RonPaul.com.
Paul's letter to the World Intellectual Property Center Arbitration and Mediation Center, which argues that Paul has a legitimate, though non-registered, trademark in his name through his long time use of it in commerce, such as book sales.
It also argues the owners of the domain name took it in bad faith with the purpose of selling it, using as evidence two offers the RonPaul.com folk made to Paul to sell, one for $848,000 then the current offer of $250,000 plus throwing in RonPaul.org for free, though the actual offer in my reading is they are offering him RonPaul.org for free irrespective of him paying for RonPaul.com.
There is a point that the legal filings and press reports leave ambiguous, and my attempts to get clarification from the RonPaul.com folk has so far failed, but I'll update it as I learn more: while they write as if they are the domain name owners, they also say they didn't start operation until 2008, and the filings indicate the domain name has been registered since 2001 and that the respondents in his case are leasing it to a "third party for a fee."
The Gawker headline tries to get contemptuous laffs out of "Ron Paul Calls on United Nations (Which He Doesn't Believe In) to Confiscate RonPaul.com."
The RonPaul.com folks also play that card:
Instead of responding to our offer, making a counter offer, or even accepting our FREE gift of RonPaul.org, Ron Paul went to the United Nations and is trying to use its legal process related to domain name disputes to actively deport us from our domain names without compensation.
Below is a copy of Ron Paul's complaint and our original offer to Ron Paul. We have 20 days to prepare a response and we are tentatively looking for a lawyer to represent us in this case.
Hopefully it won't have to come to that!
What in the world is going on? ….now Ron Paul, the Internet grassroots candidate, who was at the right place at the right time to lead the rEVOLution, attacks his own grassroots supporters through an agency of the United Nations to deport them from their own domain names after 5 years of nothing but unlimited, unconditional support on our part?
The "United Nations" part is pure bad faith obfuscation to make Paul look bad in the (pretty irrelevant in this case) Court of Public Opinion. Paul is using the only procedure for redress his has, the procedure that the owners agreed to when they registered the name. It is not unlibertarian to use set agreed-on procedures for arbitration in property rights disputes.
What's really at issue (if anything is….) is using existing law –or on a higher level of abstraction, any existing government provided amenity at all–as a libertarian. It certainly delights non-libertarians to think all libertarians must eschew all the services the government has abrogated arrogated to itself to avoid hypocrisy, and refuse to try to get any return on the taxes mulcted from the libertarian, but few libertarians have felt the same. (Anarcho-Austrian economist Walter Block boldly argues that if you are using government largess in part to spread an anti-government message, you are more entitled to the government cash than a non-libertarian.) There is also the question, controversial among libertarians, as to whether a name is something one can even have a property right in. But control of a domain name in practice assuredly is.
I think evidence indicates Paul is likely mistaken on the facts–the history of the use of RonPaul.com could easily make an objective observer decide that their actions don't obviously provide the requisite "bad faith" for Paul to win. They ran this website for years which in practice promoted his candidacy and his ideas (and yes, sell some stuff), not just to make a quick buck selling it to him. They are offering to sell it to him because he declared that he wanted it.
Ought they, as true fans, give him what he asks for? Ought he, as a believer in property rights, recognize they have established lawful and proper ownership? Hell if I know and not up to me to decide. But there is nothing more sinister or hypocritical at stake than the usual problem of a libertarian in a statist world. And while I'm not a domain name law expert, it strikes me that the ICANN system of establishment of rights by the cyber equivalent of homesteading and then agreement to neutral arbitration about controversies is closer to the dream world of libertarian property ownership establishment and adjudication than anything else in this fallen world, and there is nothing inherently shameful in using it.
If you want to dig deep into the law and practice as it stands of celebrities and "cybersquatting," try here,here, and here. Excerpt from the last, from lawyer with the strangely appropriate to this controversy name Shelley Liberto:
Any person who registers a domain name that consists of the name of another living person, or a name substantially and confusingly similar thereto, without that person's consent, with the specific intent to profit from such name by selling the domain name for financial gain to that person or any third party, shall be liable in a civil action by such person.
…..In order to find liability, a plaintiff would have to prove that the registration of the domain name was made "with the specific intent to profit from such name by selling the domain name." The registrant's own "subjective intent" to profit from the sale of the domain name must be proved….
The violation of a person's individual name as opposed to a trademark also draws less penalty than an act of cybersquatting on someone's trademark. With respect to an individual's name, the aggrieved individual is entitled to an injunction ordering cancellation or transfer of the domain name, as well as costs and attorneys' fees. In the case of trademark cybersquatting, the plaintiff would be entitled to defendant's profits and up to three times provable damages.
It is by no means cut and dried that Paul will win. Consider the case of Tupac, as discussed in a journal article from the Santa Clara Computer and High Technology Law Journal on cybersquatting:
In The Estate of Tupac Shakur v. R.J. Barranco, the Panel sought to determine whether the domain names <tupac.net> and<tupac.com> were registered and being used by the Respondent, Barranco, in bad faith. Despite an obvious lack of trademark rights, Barranco was, nonetheless, found to have legitimate rights in the domain names because he operated a fan site with information on Tupac Shakur, offered vanity email addresses and hosted advertisements linking to officially licensed Tupac Shakur merchandise. Even though the Panel found that the common law trademark rights in 'Tupac' and the disputed domain names were "patently identical," "[t]he evidence clearly establishe[d] that the Respondent does have some [legitimate] rights" in the domain name.
Barranco,"for multiple years extended his time, money and effort providing at no charge a web site where he, other fans and the general public may obtain a variety of possibly interesting information on Tupac Shakur, his music, poetry and movies. The Panel found it important that the site was a free forum where fans could discuss the former artist and also found it "significant that [Barranco's] sites have clearly indicated an obvious link to the 'official site,' expressly disclaim[ing]any affiliation or representation of that site."
…The Panel held that Barranco's fan site was not operating forcommercial gain or with the intent to divert customers or tarnish the 'Tupac' mark. Further, the Panel stated that holding otherwise would permit "persons in the position of this Claimant to unjustly enrich themselves by confiscating the work of fans and admirers in establishing a web site supporting their favorite artists without any opportunity for compensation." The Panel stated that the entire dispute was a result of "the neglect and/or inattention of the Claimant," because it failed to register the domain; transfer was thus refused based on the legitimate rights of Barranco.
From that same article, on the evidentiary hurdles Paul's challenge must clear:
The bad faith element attracts the most attention, as Paragraph4(b) of the UDRP [Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy] is dedicated to clarifying what constitutes registration and use in bad faith. Most cases of 'true' cybersquatting involve "circumstances indicating that [the registrant has] acquired the domain primarily for the purpose of selling, renting, or otherwise transferring the domain registration… for valuable consideration in excess of… documented out-of-pocket costs." Bad faith may also be shown when a domain name is registered "in order to prevent the owner of the trademark or service mark from reflecting the mark in a corresponding domain" or "for the purpose of disrupting the business of a competitor." Finally, attempts to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to a particular web site "by creating a likelihood of confusion with the complainant's mark as the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement" also constitute evidence of bad faith use and registration.