No ex parte restraining order in American Girl typosquatting case

Court expresses doubt over personal jurisdiction, likelihood of success on merits.

On July 28, 2005, an employee of the well-known doll maker American Girl accidentally discovered that the domain name amercangirl.com had been registered and was being used for links to pornographic and other adult content. Understandably upset by this act of apparent “typosquatting,” American Girl filed suit in federal court in Wisconsin against the domain name registrar Nameview, and the unknown “John Doe” registrant, alleging violation of the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d). American Girl sought an ex parte temporary restraining order against the use of the domain name, asking that the domain name be disabled and transferred.

The court denied ex parte injunctive relief. It noted first that it was “uncertain whether [it had] personal jurisdiction over either defendant.” Without such jurisdiction, the court could not enter such an in personam restraint against the defendants. The lack of personal jurisdiction was evident: the John Doe defendant’s only contact with the forum was its “passive” website. Nameview’s website was more interactive, but there was nothing in the record to show that it had “purposefully availed” itself to Wisconsin law by registering a domain name for anyone in the state.

Even if American Girl had established that the court could exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendants, it noted that there was no likelihood of success in an action against Nameview. It held that “[a] registrar who simply accepts the registration of a domain name generally is not liable for . . . violations of the ACPA.” By simply registering the domain name, and not engaging in “collusion, or some other affirmative malfeasance,” Nameview would not be liable for unlawful typosquatting.

After denying American Girl’s request for an ex parte restraining order, the court generously offered the advice of filing an in rem proceeding pursuant to 15 U.S.C. §1125(d)(2)(A) in the home district of either Nameview or Verisign, the registry for the .com TLD. The court suggested that such a proceeding might be appropriate in a situation such as this, where there would be apparent difficulty in getting personal jurisdiction over the unknown defendant John Doe.

American Girl, LLC v. Nameview, Inc., — F.Supp.2d —-, 2005 WL 1939834 (E.D.Wis., August 9, 2005).