A couple of days ago I received the following email, from a Mr Vladislav Sobolev, who I'd never heard of before:
I am going to launch ReadWriteWeb.mobi, the mobile version of ReadWriteWeb
optimized for viewing on a mobile phone. I am also launching a number of other
mobile sites including buzzmachine, craphound, crunchboard, deadspin,
micropersuasion, scobleizer, sethgodin, and a couple dozen other projects.
Thought you might be interested.
I'm also launching MacManus.mobi btw.
A little taken aback, I replied:
I have not authorized you to use the ReadWriteWeb brand or name, and this is not part of my strategy for mobile.
Therefore can you please transfer the domain name to my control. I will pay you for the registration fees. At that stage I can then discuss with you any potential business arrangement. But as of now, you do not have my permission to utilize the ReadWriteWeb name in any way and I will be looking at further action if you do so. But naturally I would prefer that we come to an agreeable solution.
Please get back to me within 5 working days.
Editor and Publisher, ReadWriteWeb Network
Now, I should note at this point that I am not a lawyer and I have to admit that I have not trademarked the ReadWriteWeb name yet. Perhaps I should, but the advice I've gotten from others on this matter in the past is that because I created the ReadWriteWeb brand and have been using it for 5 years, that would suffice in any challenge.
But back to our dialog with Mr Sobolev, who clearly is beginning to enjoy himself based on his second email:
" Mr MacManus,
I am in receipt of your message. I was led to believe that "ReadWriteWeb"
is not registered as a trademark, which means that anyone can legally use
this name as the name for their website, as well as use it as a domain name
in case the name is available for registration. To further illustrate the idea,
good examples are ReadWriteWeb.net and ReadWriteWeb.org registered
by someone else. As a matter of fact, the name in question has already
been registered in France, Germany, and Poland.
Therefore I believe there are no legal grounds that would require that I ask your
authorization to use "ReadWriteWeb" as the name for my website which
I am planning to launch at ReadWriteWeb.mobi. Nor do I see any legal grounds
that would require that I transfer the above domain name to your control.
In fact, besides the mobile version, my colleagues and I are also planning
to launch a Russian-language version, at ReadWriteWeb.ru. My colleagues
and I run a network of popular Russian websites (about 1 mln visitors daily,
which is about 5% of all Russian Internet traffic), so I have no doubt as to
the Russian version of ReadWriteWeb becoming popular among Russian
We are not going to use your name or the names of other ReadWriteWeb.com
authors, of course; neither are we going to copy the copyrighted content
of your site. What we are going to do is just use the name ReadWriteWeb,
which we sort of grown fond of. And this, doubtless, is absolutely legal.
Will we copy your writings? No, we won't. Basically, what we need is a name
that generates traffic, not the writings (I am a bit of a writer myself, you know).
Of course, if you need this domain, we can discuss it. But I must say I am sure
it is most certainly worth a little bit more than the registration fee.
OK, so he has backtracked on the content issue -- in his first email he claimed he would use the .mobi domain to run "the mobile version of ReadWriteWeb optimized for viewing on a mobile phone." But in his second email he now says he won't use copyrighted content. Other than that, he pressed forward with his strategy to use the RWW brand for his own gain.
I have been using the ReadWriteWeb name on my website for nearly 5 years now. It is not registered as a trademark, but you don't need a registered trademark to pursue legal action on a TM infringement case. A trademark is quasi-official on the date you first started using it in business. So you cannot use the name ReadWriteWeb.
If you pursue this strategy of using the value that I have built up over 5 years, for your own gain, then I will have to take legal action.
OK I have to admit to using some bluster tactics of my own. I have never taken legal action against anyone in my life, so I really wouldn't know where to start. But I figured I would do some big talking of my own. Also, it's quite possible that he is right on the trademark issue, I am not certain of my ground here.
Mr Sobolev's third email read:
I am afraid you tend to overestimate the effect of taking legal action
against someone who, being a Russian citizen, legally registered
a domain name, with a Russian registrar (so let's make a simple
calculation to find out how much time and money it would take someone
if they were to try and deprive me of my honestly registered domain).
As I have already pointed out, "ReadWriteWeb" is *not* a trademark.
Unless it is a trademark, it does not matter who and when started
using the name first. The domain name was available and I registered it.
Now I have the perfect right to create whatever site I want to unless
it infringes on someone's trademarks or copyrights.
In fact, this reminds me that in 2000, we created a site called Softodrom
(Softodrom.ru, now it's the most popular download directory in Russia,
with 100K+ unique visitors daily, the Russian Download.com so to speak).
And now there are dozens of various Softodroms of all shapes and colors,
and nobody gives a flying dick who registered the name first. Had we
trademarked the name, the situation would have been different,
but we had not.
So I am afraid there is no point in trying to deprive me of my domain
which I honestly and legally registered. I have not infringed on your
rights, nor am I planning to do so in the future. I am just going to put
up a very nice-looking website, very mobile and very readwritewebbish
(it will be optimized to use ReadWriteWeb as the main keyphrase so
that Google indexes it the right way), so that people can visit it and click
on colorful Google ads. No rights infringed, everyone's happy.
Honestly, is it my fault you have not trademarked the name?
By the way, there is also ReadWriteWeb.co.uk (parked). Unless the name
is a trademark, anyone can use it.
The intention was made clear with this bit: "I am just going to put up a very nice-looking website, very mobile and very readwritewebbish (it will be optimized to use ReadWriteWeb as the main keyphrase so that Google indexes it the right way), so that people can visit it and click on colorful Google ads. No rights infringed, everyone's happy."
Instead of continuing this game of email one-upsmanship, I thought I would ask the community what they think I can do in this situation. Clearly Mr Sobolev is winding me up (and my responses could be seen to be winding him up too), but the fact is he is attempting to use the ReadWriteWeb brand to his commercial advantage - by buying a mobile domain and a bunch of international domains for readwriteweb and trying to piggy-back off the brand name and RWW's Google rank. I would term this 'brand squatting' - not sure if there is such a term, but that's what it is to me.
Perhaps it is my fault for not trademarking the ReadWriteWeb name - tell me if you think I should. But even so, I can't go around buying the tens or even hundreds of variations of the 'readwriteweb' domain. So even if the brand does get trademarked, what's to stop this guy from using the readwriteweb.ru domain, using the red color scheme and a similar logo, optimizing for Google like he says he will, and making some fast bucks?
I'm interested in the community's feedback and advice on this issue. What do you think about the trademark issue and Mr Sobolev's claim that he can easily make money off the RWW brand? What can I do about this? Or do you support Mr Sobolev's position? Any and all feedback appreciated.