RealTime IT News

Score One for Betty Crocker

Just days after launching a redesigned Betty Crocker Web site, giant food company General Mills has won an arbitration case against a cybersquatter who had registered the bettycroker.com domain, apparently to win the eyeballs of poor typists for his advertisers.

The dispute was heard by the National Arbitration Forum under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

The site with the misspelled name was registered to one John Zuccarini, who reportedly has registered thousands of similarly misspelled domain names, which have earned him close to a million dollars a year in advertising revenues, according to the Arbitration Forum.

Most recently, Zuccarini lost the rights to kevinspacy.com in a somewhat similar dispute decided by the forum after the Academy Award-winning actor complained.

However, clicking on kevinspacy.com takes you to a page labeled "I heard about this!" which displays a copy of the U.S. Constitution, with a Wall Street Journal address. You also get a pop-up, apparently with Zuccarini's opinion on a case involving e-cards.com.

And despite this week's agreement, a visit to bettycroker.com this morning by a reporter resulted in a dozen or so full-screen pop-up ads for things such as casino sites and MP3 sales. The ads come cascading up in a manner similar to that used by some porn sites, making it difficult to close all the windows.

In the Betty Crocker decision, the arbitration panel wrote: "Respondent (Zuccarini) argues... that he operates a legitimate business, i.e., a proactive search-engine portal for his Web site advertising sponsors, and that there is nothing wrong with its registration and use of unused domain names. The Panel, however, has concluded that... Respondent may not utilize close derivations of famous and distinctive trademarks and, thus, profit from Internet users' misspelling the Internet destinations they desire... The Panel has determined that Respondent registered the disputed domain name in bad faith because he is using it intentionally to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to his Web site."

Retired California Superior Court Judge Irving Perluss decided this case, noting that the bettycroker.com name was "substantially identical and confusingly similar" to the General Mills' mark.

Asked about Zuccarini's current link to the Constitution, arbitration forum spokesperson Erin Thompson told InternetNews.com that the Constitution is "kind of his point" and Zuccarini "doesn't have to go along with the decision."

"The Forum has no substantive authority, and the procedural authority is controlled by the ICANN Policy and Rules," said Ed Anderson of the Forum in response to an e-mail query. "We simply take the pleadings of the parties, forward them to the arbitrator and forward the arbitrator's decision to ICANN and the registrar."

Betty Crocker was created in 1921 as a symbol of service for the Washburn Crosby Company, which later became General Mills. Originally associated with Gold Medal Flour, today the brand is found on more than 200 products including cake mixes, dinner mixes, potatoes and cookbooks.