Am I my cybersquatter's keeper? Not according to a U.S. appeals court. The decision is one more battle in a long war as trademark rights clash in the global space of Net domain names.
In 1996 Lockheed Martin (LMT) sued Network Solutions (dossier) because NSI registered dozens of names using the phrase "Skunk Works" to so-called cybersquatters. (These worthies snatch up domain names so they can sell them later to the companies the names suggest.) "Skunk Works" is a registered trademark of Lockheed. The appeals court ruled, as had a lower court, that NSI cannot possibly police trademark violations.
Many news outlets picked up the AP coverage for this story. The New York Times and Baltimore Sun ran it in full; the Wall Street Journal trimmed it to 5 grafs. The San Diego Union Tribune even gave AP reporter Bob Egelko a byline.
The San Jose Mercury News assigned staffer Howard Mintz to the story, but he didn't turn up a whole lot more than the AP had. He quoted a fine simile from Judge Stephen Trott's written decision for the 3-judge panel: "NSI does not supply the domain-name combination any more than the Postal Service supplies a street address by performing the routine service of routing mail."
In a related story, the New York Times' Jeri Clausing fronted her weekly Capital Dispatch with a bulletin from another front in the war over domain names. Industry and civil-liberties groups are fighting over a proposed anti-cybersquatting bill now making its way through Congress. The bill's opponents claim that it gives way too much leverage to trademark holders. As Mintz predicted in the Mercury News, the Supreme Court will eventually have to sort out the domain name mess; the Skunk Works is but one of many bad smells here.
Network Solutions Held Not Liable in Trademark Violations
San Jose Mercury News
Internet Registrars Aren't Liable in Clashes Over Domain Names (AP)
Wall Street Journal
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Internet Name Provider Can't Be Sued (AP)
New York Times
Court Bars Suit Against Internet Name Provider (AP)
San Diego Union-Tribune
Court Says Web Registrar Can't Be Sued Over Names (AP)
Civil Libertarians Seek to Halt Cybersquatting Bill
New York Times