Web Sites Charge Up Ford's Ire
by Heather Newman
Owners sued over Net names
Amanda's site about her favorite endangered species has gotten just 930 visitors. That's all right; the British teen is 13, and her site is a hobby, containing just a few links, a few questions and answers and some photos.
Unfortunately, Amanda's favorite disappearing animal is the jaguar, and that's landing her father's friend, who registered the site for her, in U.S. District Court in Detroit today.
John (Paul) Hall and more than 60 domain name owners have been sued by Ford Motor Co. for "attempting to profit" from domain names that include the words Ford, Jaguar, Volvo or Aston Martin -- in Hall's case, www.jaguarcenter.com .
Other defendants include car-repair shops, classic-car enthusiasts and more big-cat sites. Some of the defendant sites, such as www.the-ford-motor-company.com and www.volvocredit.com, are more clearly trading on the company brand names.
Motions to dismiss the cases against a group of the defendants will be heard today.
All the sites were apparently once up for sale on the Great Domains Web site, which registers desirable names and then resells them to interested parties. Great Domains is listed first in the lawsuit.
But some of the Web site owners named in Ford's lawsuit didn't buy the sites from Great Domains; they apparently registered them later.
"At some point in time, when the lawsuit was filed, every single one of the people in the suit had tried to profit from the name, some by turning around and selling it," Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley said. "Trademarks are among Ford's most valuable assets. We are protecting those assets."
Two of the sites listed are www.4fordparts.com and www.4fordtrucks.com, owned by Wallace Rawson, 51, who owns an auto-repair shop in the Chicago area. He's a third-generation automotive store owner who sells Ford parts.
He checked out his site names with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office prior to registering them in December 1999, to make sure they weren't already trademarked by Ford. They still aren't.
His first contact with the company was a certified letter in May telling him he was about to be sued and demanding ,000 in damages, he said.
"I never set up any Web site with these domain names, and I never put them on any search engines or on the World Wide Web," he said. "I never received one phone call about them or received one e-mail in regards to them. To my knowledge, no one in the world has ever seen these domain names....
"I said, 'This is a misunderstanding.' I said, 'I'm not here to fight with Ford. Take 'em.' But to get out of it, they wanted ,000 from me. I already gave them the names....
"I asked for them to work with me and lower the figure and I would settle the matter. They said they would only take ,000 per domain name. I felt that it was an unjust amount and I should fight the matter in court."
Of the parts stores on the list, Kinley said, "If they have a licensing agreement with us, then there's no problem. We have to look at each case individually."
Electronic rights organizations are helping to represent the site owners in this latest battle over domain name piracy and Internet free speech.
Attorney Eric Grimm is representing the site owners in five motions to dismiss the case.
"Trademarks don't give you the right to put parts sites out of business," he said. "They don't give you the right to shut down animal sites."
Ford's last high-profile Internet lawsuit was against the owner of www.blueovalnews.com , which had posted spy photos and designs of Ford cars up to the 2010 model year. U.S. District Court in Detroit approved a settlement between Ford and owner Robert Lane of Dearborn on Jan. 2.
"I've driven a Ford all my life," Rawson said. "I sell Ford parts and I have three Ford trucks that I use in my business today. I love Ford products and I would never do anything to hurt Ford in any way . . .
"To this day I do not find fault with Ford over this matter, but I think the lawyers are making a mistake. They are going after some of their best customers."