RealTime IT News

Massive Lawsuit Over Olympic Domains

It's a lawsuit of Olympic proportions. The holders of 1,800 Web domains are being sued for cybersquatting on the property of three Olympic governing bodies.

The US Olympic Committee, The International Olympic Committee, and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the Olympic Winter Games of 2002 filed the suit, believed to be the largest cybersquatting case to date. In the complaint, filed last month in Virginia, plaintiffs ask the court to force the registrants of nearly 2,000 domains that bear the word "Olympic" to turn them over to the USOC and IOC.

A quick check of Internic records shows tens of thousands of domains containing the term Olympic, most of them not registered to Olympic bodies. According to James Bikoff of Silverberg, Goldman & Bikoff, the law firm representing the plaintiffs, the suit targets the most egregious infringers.

"We have a tough fight ahead -- we're dealing with all kinds of different cases. Some are trying to sell them at auction and others are trying to resell them for thousands of dollars. But all of them seek to capitalize on the Olympic mark," said Bikoff.

According to Bikoff, the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act gave the US Olympic Committee exclusive rights in the US to the use of the Olympic mark by businesses. There are some exceptions to that statute: Olympic.com for example is owned PPG Architectural Finishes whose trademark is grand fathered under the law.

Among the domains named in the Olympic lawsuit are several owned by Planet Scotland, an Aberdeen company that operates a Web portal by the same name. The company registered 57 domains that include the word Olympic, according to chairman Terance Taylor: Olympic-Baseball.com, olympic-biking.com, and olympic-running.com to name a few.

Taylor denied that Planet Scotland is a cybersquatter, noting that while it has registered more than 1,500 domains, the company has not sold any of them. According to Taylor, the firm registered the Olympic domains to build a network of sites that will carry news and information about the Games, and Planet Scotland is simply filling an information void created by Olympic organizers.

"If the Olympic committee has the right to do this, then they also have the moral obligation to do what we are proposing to do. It's all there and no one else can use it. What else can you call it besides 'Olympic?'" said Taylor.

Because the 1,800 defendants are dispersed around the globe and the domain records for some are incomplete, the plaintiffs are filing the action "in rem," which is Latin for "against the thing." Rather than suing the domain holder, attorneys for the Olympic organizers are filing against the domains themselves, and therefore don't have to worry about the jurisdictional issues raised by an international lawsuit.

According to Mikki Barry, president of the Domain Name Rights Coalition, the same strategy was successfully employed by Porsche Cars of North America last year when it sued 138 domain holders it accused of cybersquatting on its famous marks.

"This is reverse domain-name hijacking. It makes it far more convenient for the person filing the lawsuit, and is yet another means of strong-arming people. The defendants can do nothing," said Barry.

Taylor says he has not yet seen the complaint, but he doesn't like the fact that a US law is being used to take away domains from registrants in over 50 countries.

"I would quite willingly give these names to the British Olympic Committee, but I'm not going to give them to the Americans, becauset