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Referees fight over eRights. Judge drops the ball.

By cbatt in MLP
Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 04:23:08 PM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)

From the desk of the DamnStupid department comes this nifty little news item:

A federal judge says that Referee magazine holds the rights to the name 'referee' and the Web site must stop using that name in all their domains.

In one of the broadest crackdowns ever issued against a domain name holder, a federal judge has ordered eReferee.com to stop using the word "referee" in all of its domain names

Isn't this taking trademark law a little to far? I thought that words with common usage could not be trademarked. Apparently, Judge C.N. Clevert of Wisconsin doesn't agree.

In issuing his ruling last month, Clevert went beyond even the remedy requested by Referee magazine. He not only banned Right Sports from using eReferee.com and other related domain names, he also prohibited the company from using the term "referee" at all, "either alone or with other words" in its "domain names, directory names or other such computer addresses."
eReferee has relocated to Officiating.com where some users of its web services have tried to organize a boycott against Referee magazine.


In addition, Referee magazine on Wednesday filed a contempt of court motion against eReferee, saying the site's decision to redirect traffic to its Officiating.com site is flouting the judge's order. The magazine is asking that Right Sports be fined $5,000 per day for each day it continues redirecting traffic from the eReferee.com domain name.
Can this set any sort of precedent for future trademark law, or is it a miscarriage of justice that will get thrown out upon appeal?


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The ruling is:
o not in line with Trademark law 56%
o setting precedent 5%
o mu 38%

Votes: 39
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o news item
o Referee magazine
o eReferee.c om
o Officiatin g.com
o Also by cbatt

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Referees fight over eRights. Judge drops the ball. | 19 comments (17 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
ICANN (3.50 / 4) (#1)
by wiredog on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 12:51:33 PM EST

This decision shows how toothless ICANNs dispute resolution system is. Don't like the decision? Get a friendly judge! These guys won't be the last.

The idea of a global village is wrong, it's more like a gazillion pub bars.

NFL, NBA, NHL... (2.75 / 4) (#2)
by Seumas on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 12:56:55 PM EST

The major leagues of baseball, football, hockey and other sports better start digging into their pockets so they can afford to license the use of the term "referee" for the officials for their sports games.

Honestly, every once in awhile, something comes along that makes you just wish a giant asteroid would hit the earth and the orbit of our planet would change so as to plummet us into the sun. It would be worth a fiery death just to see these fucking over-paid, over-educated pompous morons (aka, judges and lawyers) burn to a crisp.
I just read K5 for the articles.

hm.. (3.50 / 2) (#4)
by rebelcool on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 01:18:51 PM EST

i wouldnt say over educated... lack of education and common sense tends to be the problem.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

And in other news (4.22 / 9) (#3)
by jabber on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 01:02:07 PM EST

The Jim Henson Company filed simultaneous law suits in all Federal and State courts, against literally EVERYONE, citing the "sponsorship" of their popular Children's show Sesame Street by the letters I and P, as well as all other Arabic letters and all of the digits between 0 and 9 inclusively as grounds.

The aim of the law suit is to force literally EVERYONE to "play nicely, together". JHC is seeking damages to the tune of $500 per instance of usage of it's copyrighted and trademarked "Letters and Numbers" from literaly EVERYONE who does not use said Intellectual Properties in good faith.

The State of Florida, in particular Broward County, is considering challenging the 'Numbers clause' of the JHC suit on the grounds that it's residents 'do not know how to use Numbers(tm) in the first place'.

-- This reminds me of the Compton's Encyclopedia maneuver from the early 90's, when they tried to Copyright and Trademark the word 'multimedia'.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Nitpick (2.00 / 1) (#15)
by fluffy grue on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 08:58:35 PM EST

Although the numerology system used in most modern civilizations ([0-9]*(.[0-9]*)) and taught on Sesame Street are of Arabic origin, most western languages, including those which Sesame Street tends to discuss are based on Roman caricature ([a-zA-Z]*).

Additionally, the Jim Henson Company doesn't own Sesame Street, they only own a number of the characters in it. The show itself is owned by the Children's Television Workshop.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Trademarking 101 (3.16 / 6) (#5)
by Signal 11 on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 01:22:28 PM EST

This judge is an idiot, and the defense attorney(s) was likewise not too bright...

Trademark law specifically says <i.you cannot trademark common words. I can't setup shop at "Bob's Grocery Store" and then claim a (valid) trademark for it. Even if I had a chain of 50,000 of Bob's Grocery Stores, it wouldn't matter, because the name is not descriptive and unique. Nike is a unique trademark - you aren't going to say Nike in casual conversation. However, if I made Klein Brand Underwear, that would not qualify for trademark - there could (and probably are) other people named Klein out there.

So, in short, I suggest we form a DNS cabal and tell global capitalism to put a hot poker up their arse because its choking the life out of life with its innane laws - where else in history has such idiocy been tolerated en masse?

Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.

Silicon Flu (3.50 / 4) (#6)
by jabber on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 02:00:46 PM EST

Are you suggesting a strike by the entire IT industry? A massive sickout, due to the counter-IP-idiocy meme infection that so many of us suffer? We could come up with a manifesto which would serve as an anitbiotic of sorts.. A dictum of IP/trademark and accountability standards which business entities would have to agree to abide by before any of us lost our IT sniffles and returned to work...

Not a bad idea, especially if we could time it with the Actor's Strike. The world would be reduced to rubble as people had nothing better to do than listening to Howard Stern and watching Survivor. The Internet would grind to a halt. Airplanes would stop flying. QVC would only be able to accept cash..

Or we would find out that we are actually completely unneeded and that society gets along just fine without us. :) In any case, any such action would require that which we all despise - action. It's so much more amusing to just sit and talk about it while pulling down good salaries for doing what we would probably do for free anyway.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

lemme tell yah (2.50 / 2) (#7)
by cbatt on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 02:08:22 PM EST

If I wasn't pulling down a salary like the one I am, then I wouldn't have the free time to do for free that which I do.

But I do agree that we'd much rather sit back and watch the shit pile up underneath us because we're so... I don't know if "lazy" is the right word, but maybe "complacent" is.

Before you can understand recursion
you must understand recursion.

[ Parent ]

DNS servers... (2.50 / 2) (#9)
by Signal 11 on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 02:32:03 PM EST

Are you suggesting a strike by the entire IT industry?

Actually, writing a worm / auto-installer to reconfigure DNS servers around the world to reference another set of root servers combined with a global effort by administrators to switch to the new system was what I had in mind. They could use the "we've been infected!" excuse as a reason for why they can't change back when the lawyers come bitching. Taking down the internet is much, much, easier - just send a few bogus BGP packets around at uu.net peering points and watch your network routes turn red.

Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.
[ Parent ]

Very bad examples (none / 0) (#16)
by Ludwig on Sat Feb 17, 2001 at 04:05:40 AM EST

You probably could trademark "Bob's Grocery Store." As a matter of fact, there's a clothing retail chain called "Bob's Stores." What you could not trademark is "Grocery Store." "Klein Brand Underwear" could be trademarked, although you'd be sued by Calvin Klein. "Underwear" could not be trademarked. It has nothing to do with how common a proper name is, the prohibition is against trademarking generic descriptive words in their entirety.

[ Parent ]
All i have to say is.... (3.33 / 3) (#8)
by Mantrid on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 02:15:20 PM EST


I'm sick of companies pulling this crap! Enough already! How about making money from goods & services instead of lawsuits? How about making a name for your company based on a quality product instead of some trademark? How about making a decent website that will stand on its own instead of worrying about who might have a name similar to yours?

Reading stuff like this makes me glad I'm not an American, but I'm not really sure how this stuff applies to Canada and the rest of the world as well. I mean if someone in the US bans something or doesn't like something, does that mean it can't exist elsewhere? Why don't people start hosting websites elsewhere?

you know (2.00 / 1) (#14)
by cbatt on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 04:28:02 PM EST

I've always wondered about that too. Do these trademark laws cross borders in all cases?

I mean, if I were to host a site in some corrupt backwater company, and the company itself was incorporated in the same country, and the plaintiff was from some other country and neither were multi-national corporations. Would the case have a leg to stand on? In what court would the case be tried?

Pardon my naivete.

Before you can understand recursion
you must understand recursion.

[ Parent ]

Trademarks and context (4.00 / 2) (#11)
by jesterzog on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 03:06:06 PM EST

I hope people don't get too carried away with just blindly flaming referee magazine and the system and general over this.

As usual I'm not a lawyer, but I don't think it's too much of a threat. Even through I'm personally against this sort of thing, there's not enough context given in the writeup to tell exactly what's going on and to what extent.

At first it seems as if Referee magazine is trying to trademark the English language, but what they're probably doing is just trying to steer clear of any confusion between two domain names. referee.com and ereferee.com (now officiating.com) are both online sports magazines. From memory, you're allowed to trademark words within a localised context of use. With that in mind, Referee magazine would be able to complain about any other sports magazines that try to use a similar name..

In the same way, Microsoft would be able to complain about a software company called Microsift - if they felt it was threatening their name. Otherwise Microsift could start putting out software that people might wrongly associate with Microsoft. On the other hand, they wouldn't be able to complain about a kitchen appliance company named Microsift. There's just not enough confusion there.

So referee.com is probably worried about two things:

  • ereferee.com might start publishing material that could give the referee.com a bad reputation, even though they're not connected
  • ereferee.com could be stealing customers from referee.com unfairly, by having a similar name and simply cashing in on the referee.com name.

Again, I'm not completely in favour of being able to trademark domain names, but I don't think it's as bad as the story makes out. If anyone can correct me on any of this, please do.

jesterzog Fight the light

the issue is two parts (3.66 / 3) (#12)
by cbatt on Fri Feb 16, 2001 at 04:19:19 PM EST

1. They're trademarking a common word: "referee". A word in usage since far before referee magazine decided to call itself that.

2. And I quote: "[the judge] also prohibited the company from using the term "referee" at all, 'either alone or with other words' in its 'domain names, directory names or other such computer addresses.'" Which precludes the usage of such things as: www.officiating.com/referee

That's the real issue here. He's effectively given ownership of the word referee to Referee magazine.

Before you can understand recursion
you must understand recursion.

[ Parent ]

Just wait. (4.00 / 1) (#17)
by flieghund on Sun Feb 18, 2001 at 12:49:09 AM EST

On the other hand, they [Microsoft] wouldn't be able to complain about a kitchen appliance company named Microsift. There's just not enough confusion there.

Yes, well, that's before Microsoft -- following the brilliant successes of the Microsoft Phone, WebTV (now called something else?), and the X-box -- introduces its line of networked kitchen appliances running WinCE...

(It's subtle, but I'd color this comment burgundy.)

Using a Macintosh is like picking your nose: everyone likes to do it, but no one will admit to it.
[ Parent ]
Marco would be so proud of Ralph... (none / 0) (#18)
by flieghund on Sun Feb 18, 2001 at 01:17:32 AM EST

This reminds me of a recent (1999) court case between Polo Ralph Lauren (clothing line) and Polo Magazine (as in the sport of polo). Details can be found in various places; I got a lot of info out of this article in the Dallas Morning News. You can read the Court's opinion here.

Basically, in a move to widen its readership base, Polo Magazine expanded from the basic sports-related content to include "travel, fashion and the affluent lifestyles often associated with the sport" as well as "featuring celebrities, including fashion models, on its cover." (DMN) However, it remained the official magazine of the United States Polo Association, and the content was still heavily marketed to people involved in the sport of polo.

Polo Ralph Lauren (PRL) asked Polo Magazine to stop using the Polo name; the magazine responded with a lawsuit, which was returned in kind by the clothing company. Despite the fact that the magazine held Federal Trademarks protecting the name "POLO" for use in publications -- and PRL did not contest these trademarks on numerious opportunities -- the magazine still lost.

Granted, the magazine had strayed from its original intent (in fact, a damaging statement by the magazine's owner even went so far as to say that the magazine was "not about the sport...") However, the important thing to remember here is that it was still associated with the sport of polo, it still garnered the endorsement of the United states Polo Association as its official magazine, and PRL specifically did not have trademark protection for publications using the "POLO" name. In the end, however, none of that mattered.

Using a Macintosh is like picking your nose: everyone likes to do it, but no one will admit to it.
[OT] For those interested... (none / 0) (#19)
by rajivvarma on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 02:43:12 AM EST

It was discussed on /. as well:

Rajiv Varma
Mirror of DeCSS.

Referees fight over eRights. Judge drops the ball. | 19 comments (17 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
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