While I was busy working on the whole Nintendo vs. Crackerjap story that I broke last week, I learned about a site called Dinobot.org. Apparently Dinobot.Org was embroiled in a legal dispute with Hasbro. Well, I decided to read a little more about it. 15 minutes later I was firing off an email to the webmaster of the page because I knew I had another story people on the net needed to hear about……
Terence Lindsey’s parents decided to get him a domain name for his birthday. After all, he’d been talking about doing a website. They decided to pick a domain name based off of his net nickname “Dinobot”. Soon thereafter, his parents purchased “dinobot.org” for him. Terence set up a little non-commercial gaming/news site on dinobot.org and everything was going fine…..until a letter from Hasbro’s legal department arrived.
Hasbro had impeccable timing. A mere 3 days after Christmas, Terence “Dinobot” Lindsey received a letter from Hasbro demanding that he turn over his domain name to Hasbro. Why? Because it was called Dinobot.org and Hasbro has a trademarked toy called Dinobot. In fact, if you read Hasbro’s letter, they seem to be saying that because they have the word “dinobot” trademarked, that means that they have the right to own every domain the word Dinobot is in. Read part 1 of Hasbro’s letter here and part 2 here.
Now anyone with even the most basic knowledge of the law as it applies to domain names knows that Hasbro has absolutely no case. In fact, read what lawyer Jeff Gordon said when I ran this past him…”Hasbro isn’t going to win this suit if it goes to court……Hasbro is just trying to bully their way around. So long as the person can show non-infringing use (like it’s his nickname), and he’s not trying to sell their toys (or a competing toy), and he’s not BASHING Hasbro, then he’s going to win. BUT, what Hasbro is counting on is for the guy to just roll over and play dead. The key here is to fight.”
So this is a slam dunk case right? All Terence Lindsey has to do is go to court and stick it to Hasbro, right? Not so fast. Going to court means hiring a lawyer. Furthermore, fighting the Hasbro legal team isn’t going to be a stroll in the park. Consider that Hasbro once fought a similar lawsuit with Clue Computing over the Clue.com domain name for 3 long years.
When I spoke to Terence about this originally, he was gung ho to fight this out with Hasbro. He’d done his research and he knew he was 100% in the right. Read these quotes from the conversation I had with Terence…..
“Terence: Immediately, I researched the Lanham (Trademark) Act and discovered that a pre-requisite to the entire remedy titles was that I have to be using the Dinobot trademark for commercial purposes. Also, I found that my site…falls within the bounds of the ICANN UDRP because the domain is not owned out of bad intent. So the following day, I faxed a two-page (page 1, page 2) counter argument to Hasbro’s lawyers defending why my ownership of Dinobot.org is.”
This whole thing looks pretty airtight for Dinobot right? Well it’s not quite as simple as it sounds.
Terence has a little discussion with one of Hasbro’s legal minions and he was basically told “Either give us the domain name or expect a lawsuit on Tuesday the 23rd of January, 2001.”
Suddenly the reality of the situation started to come home to Terence. He was a single individual, getting ready to take on a corporation worth billions of dollars in a legal dispute. Sure he was right…but being right doesn’t pay legal fees.
Consider this quote from Eric Robsion (the CEO of Clue Computing) about Hasbro’s lawsuit against his company…
“I’ve been expecting to be destroyed for the past three and a half years. It’s cost me my marriage and to some extent my health. And my actual legal bills run around six figures. But I don’t want the Internet to be run by bullies and oligopolies.”
Taking on Hasbro could literally take years of a person’s life and cost a small fortune to pay legal fees. Sure he was right, but was it worth it to take a stand? In the end, Terence decided it wasn’t. He made a post about it on his page. Here is some of that post……
“It would cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars to battle Hasbro in court over a $100 domain. …..I’m not willing to fight Hasbro in court myself. Yes, all the lawyers are saying I could easily win in court. However, for the cost of defeating Hasbro I could have purchased a brand new car. Even though people are still crying for me to battle Hasbro via e-mail and ICQ, it’s not realistic. I’ll transfer to the domain to anybody who seriously believes they can afford such a move, but it’s just not worth it in the end over a domain. I’m sorry, but this is how the US legal system works. The good guys are screwed over sometimes. Look at the OJ Simpson trial — money talks.”
After much thought, Terence offered to sell or trade Dinobot.org to Hasbro. Here is a snippet of the letter he sent them on the 19th
“I am willing to trade it in exchange for another domain of my choice paid for two-years with e-mail included. If your client does not want to risk any form of copyright or trademark infringement, then I request a reimbursement of $120 to purchase a new domain. Network Solutions charges $60/year with custom e-mail, so it would be $120 for two-years.”
As of yet, Hasbro has not replied. From their point of view I guess it can’t hurt to let him twist in the wind a little bit more right? What does Hasbro have to lose? They are a multi-billion dollar company with lawyers on retainer who have nothing better to do than sue people. Do you think Hasbro will sweat the legal fees on something like this? No way.
In my opinion, this is a lot like the protection rackets that the mafia runs. A guy shows up at your little store and tells you “Either pay us money every week for protection or something bad is going to happen to your store.” Now there’s no question that you are right and these thugs are wrong. Furthermore, you certainly can tell these guys to “get lost” or go to the police. But reality is, this guy is part of a large organization with resources you don’t have. Chances are that eventually you’ll walk into your store one day and find that it’s burnt to the ground. You’re out of business, you’re broke, your life is wrecked, but the thugs? It’s business as usual for them. So do you give them their payoff or fight them? Like most people, Terence Lindsey is choosing to give in. Hopefully he won’t have to worry about being ground into the sod under the boot of Hasbro’s lawyers. But every time a company gets away with this sort of thing, it makes them just a little bit bolder and a little more certain that it’s ok to bully people. I don’t fault Terence Lindsey for his decision. However, I do think that it’s sad that in the year 2001, getting “justice” is more dependent on having lawyers and money, than on being right.
**Note** I did attempt to get Hasbro’s side of this issue but my email to Hasbro lawyer Noah Charlson was not answered.