In what may be the first lawsuit of its kind, the owners of the site TheLiberalOC.com won a judgment against another blogger who cybersquatted their domain and then posted a series of links to offensive porn sites. The site is owned by two liberal bloggers in Orange County, California (not exactly known for the dominance of that particular political persuasion): Dan Chmielewski, a PR executive and Chris Prevatt, the publisher of Thinking Liberally Media. Last week a federal judge ruled in their favor in a lawsuit charging Art Pedroza and the Orange Juice Blog with cybersquatting, trademark and copyright infringement. It is a well-won victory for all of us.
Pedroza is pretty much the ultimate slime ball, and starting in November 2009 he began acquiring various domain names that were nearly identical to the original one of the blog and Chmielewski's PR company's corporate domain. He then demanded thousands of dollars for these squatted domains. When the liberal bloggers turned him down, Pedroza proceeded to route his domains to gay porn and gay pedophile sites.
Pedroza's issues were personal: he lost a local election and didn't like the liberals' tone. Which is odd because TheLiberalOC blog was recognized as the Best Liberal Blog by Orange Coast Magazine in 2008 and won the Orange County Press Club's 2010 "Best Political Blog." Clearly, they were doing something right in the OC.
But there are some important lessons for enterprise website owners who are faced with a similar annoyance, and the liberal bloggers certainly made some critical decisions that helped their cause.
- Never fight with a PR pro, especially one that knows his way around the Web. Chmielewski posted this piece to fight fire with fire at the beginning of the process, and within a few hours he redirected the cybersquatted domains, but still not under their control.
- Fight fire with fire. To retaliate, the bloggers bought Pedroza's domain name and redirected it to a critical post they wrote on their blog. See point #1.
- Don't go the libel route. The lawsuit focused on cybersquatting and use of their trademarks. "By going that route we cut some time off the process, otherwise we could have gotten involved with the ACLU and deeper pockets," said Chmielewski. This way they got a narrower and quicker victory.
- Ignore ICANN's dispute resolution process. Also they didn't use the ICANN dispute procedures, "Because we wanted these sites down fast and if we had gone through ICANN they would have acted a lot slower."
- Don't give in to cyberbullies. Pedroza was determined, but the liberal bloggers were more so, and kept after him for two years in the courts. They wanted to keep their reputations intact and eventually saw their efforts pay off.
"As far as we know, this is the first time that a suit between two bloggers has been settled this way," said Chmielewski. "But it has been two years in the making, so it wasn't a quick victory by any means. It is amazing what someone who is not represented by counsel can do to delay the process. But we are glad to have prevailed. For all of us, the case has never been about the money but about protecting our names, our professional reputations, and our business rights."