California decision: GoDaddy is not a passive cybersquatter

Pretend, for a moment, that you could invite 1,000 guests to your Los Angeles home for a party. As a good social host, you’d take reasonable measures to prevent anyone from becoming ill from overeating or intoxicated from too much imbibing. With so many guests, it would be hard to monitor everyone.

Even though you’ve met your obligations as a host, it’s likely that a few guests will still create problems for themselves or other guests. Now, insert as the web host and reimagine the guests as 55 million individuals and companies that register Internet domains with the global company. Who is to blame when GoDaddy customers harm one another?

A California federal judge upheld a lower court’s decision to throw out a case filed by Malaysian energy giant Petronas against GoDaddy for contributory cybersquatting. GoDaddy registered two websites with names similar to Petronas’ main site. The owner of the infringing sites redirected users to a pornographic site.

The appellate judge and an affirming U.S. Ninth Circuit panel said that Petronas could not blame GoDaddy for the customer’s cybersquatting. GoDaddy registered but did not host the cybersquatter’s sites and could not be held liable for the redirection to the “highly offensive” porn website, under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.

The panel said that even if a cause of action did exist under the ACPA, it is likely the law wouldn’t hold up under a legal challenge. There’s nothing in the law to address anything other than primary cybersquatting liability. The panel noted that changing the meaning of the law would force service providers to predict the motives of customers.

Some intellectual property lawsuits are initiated not just to bring a valid gripe before a court but to test the boundaries of a law. A plaintiff, with the help of legal counsel, must determine the true motive and the probable outcome before committing to action.

Source:, “GoDaddy Is a No Go in Cybersquatting Suit” Tim Hull, Dec. 04, 2013

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