Oscar gains leverage in California cybersquatting suit

The CashParking program offered by domain name registrar GoDaddy is not a big profit maker. Customers who buy domains they don’t want to use can choose to “park” them with GoDaddy. Under an agreement, advertising revenue from pay-per-click ads on the parked sites is split between the company and domain name owners.

A California judge doesn’t care how much or how little GoDaddy profits from the program. The judge decided the company’s “intent to profit” from the revenue-sharing program disqualified GoDaddy from safe harbor in a cybersquatting suit brought by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

The decision boosts the Academy’s assertion that GoDaddy profited unfairly, if only a little, from the Oscar awards ceremony trademark. AMPAS claims there are over 100 Academy Awards-related domains among GoDaddy’s parked inventory.

A positive ruling on safe harbor would have allowed GoDaddy to lower or avoid liability in the cybersquatting case, but the judge felt the company did not act in “good faith.” She ruled GoDaddy exceeded the limits of a registrar by using domain names and trafficking ads to make money.

GoDaddy claims the Academy inflated the recognition of the Oscars trademark. Defense lawyers asserted that Oscar isn’t as well known to consumers as the Academy claims, according to survey participants who failed to connect the trademark with entertainment. The judge ruled that Oscar’s fame must be decided by a jury in an upcoming trial.

The Academy also won a slight edge when the federal judge agreed to lower the plaintiff’s burden of proof. The plaintiff must show evidence that GoDaddy’s parked domains “merely” rather than “actually” diluted the Oscars trademark.

Intellectual property laws are complicated, sensitive and, in domain disputes like this one, barely tested. The Academy’s case against GoDaddy is the first of its kind. Attorneys understand that everything a judge or jury decides will set a precedent for similar, future cases.

Source: hollywoodreporter.com, “Film Academy Nears Trial Against GoDaddy Over ‘Oscars’ Trademarks” Eriq Gardner, Jun. 25, 2013