No ACPA claim where only dispute was over payment of royalties

Think about how you would answer this question:

Your friend wants to use your car so that he can do his job of delivering pizza. The two of you work out a deal where he can drive the car, on the condition that at the end of each week he will pay you 5% of the tips he collects from his job. Things go as planned for awhile, with your friend paying the agreed upon percentage. After a few weeks, however, he stops paying.

Would he be authorized to keep using the car?

If you answered “no,” then you may disagree with the reasoning of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in the recent case of Fox v. iVillage.

Plaintiffs, who had previously licensed their trademark to defendants in return for the payment of a 5% royalty rate, filed suit in federal court alleging, among other things, violation of the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (“ACPA”), 15 U.S.C. 1125(d). Defendants moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and the court granted the motion. It found that the case presented merely “a state law contract dispute, not one involving substantive questions of federal law.”

The court ruled that the only dispute between the parties was over the nonpayment of the agreed-upon royalty. Because defendants had been authorized to use plaintiffs’ trademark, the court held, there could be no bad faith intent to profit from the mark. Accordingly, without a valid claim under the ACPA, there was no federal question, and the court was without subject matter jurisdiction.

Reasonable minds may differ as to whether this holding was correct. Doesn’t it seem that if the royalties weren’t being paid, then the use of the trademark was not, as the court concluded, authorized? In other words, wasn’t payment of royalties a necessary condition of authorization? To bring it under the language of the ACPA, doesn’t it seem like continuing to use a trademark as a domain name without paying for it would be in bad faith? Wouldn’t your friend’s continued use of your car be bad faith on his part?

Fox v. iVillage, 2005 WL 3157413 (N.D. Cal., November 23, 2005).