Verizon obtains damages, injunction against regsitrar under ACPA

[This is a guest post by contributor Brian Beckham]

Plaintiff Verizon California, Inc. (Verizon) recently obtained a default judgment in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division, in its favor against Defendant, the registrar OnlineNIC, Inc. (press release).

Despite repeated attempts, Verizon was not able to serve notice on OnlineNIC; the court ultimately approved Verizon’s application to serve process with the California Secretary of State. OnlineNIC was alleged to have engaged in the bad faith registration of 663 identical or confusingly similar domain names incorporating one of Verizon’s family of marks (e.g., <bestverizon.net>, <myprepaidverizon.com>, <verizonflios.com>, <vzwactivate.com>, etc.) inter alia, in violation of the ACPA. Verizon’s unchallenged, well-pleaded allegations were accepted by the court as true; OnlineNIC’s liability was thus established.

In addition to OnlineNIC’s default, significantly, the court noted that OnlineNIC had refused to alter its behavior (presumably after a cease & desist letter) and had purposefully attempted to avoid detection (e.g., by providing false contact information). However, given the default, the court was reluctant to impose the full statutory damages provided for under the ACPA ($100,000 per infringement), but imposed damages of $50,000 per violation (totaling $33.15 million). It remains to be seen whether Verizon will successfully collect, nonetheless, Verizon obtained a transfer order in its favor for all of the 663 infringing domain names. OnlineNIC (including any related entity) was further enjoined from directly or indirectly (i) registering, trafficking in or using any domain name that is identical or confusingly similar to the Verizon marks and (ii) assisting, aiding or abetting any other person or business entity in engaging in or performing and of the said activities.

This injunction seems to leaves open the question of whether the seemingly common registrar practice of actively suggesting alternate domain names available for registration (e.g., those that add alphanumerical strings, e.g., <new____4u.com>, <buy____.net>, <your____.org>, <my____pro.com>, <best____.com>, etc.) would be covered by the “assisting, aiding or abetting” language in the injunction.

Case is: 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104516

Statutory damages for copying competitor’s catalog on website

Silver Ring Splint Co. v. Digisplint, Inc., 2008 WL 2478390 (W.D.Va. June 18, 2008)

Silver Ring and Digisplint are competitors in a niche industry, each producing and selling fine jewelry quality finger splints made of gold and sterling silver. Silver ring sued Digisplint for copyright infringement alleging that Digisplint copied text from Silver Ring’s 1994 catalog, and posted that text on Digisplint’s website.

Before trial, the court awarded summary judgment to Silver Ring on the question of liability for copyright infringement. The question of damages proceeded to trial. Finding that “nearly identical and very similar text comprise[d] substantial portions of both [works],” and that the similarities were “obvious and persuasive,” the court awarded Silver Ring $30,000 in statutory damages pursuant to 17 U.S.C. §504(c)(1). It found that Digisplint’s copying was willful, and although Digisplint reaped no profits from the infringement, the award was to serve as a deterrent to future conduct of the sort.

Digisplint had filed a counterclaim pursuant to the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) over Silver Ring’s registration of digisplint.com. The court found in favor of Digisplint on this claim, and entered an injunction against any further registration of a confusingly similar domain name. But because Silver Ring registered the domain name in 1998, prior to the enactment of the ACPA, Digisplint was entitled to no money damages, only an injunction.

Former band members’ use of service mark is not so Chic

Rogers v. Wright, No. 04-1149, 2008 WL 857761 (S.D.N.Y. March 31, 2008)

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has issued a permanent injunction restricting the use of the service mark CHIC in connection with musical performances by two former members of the musical group of the same name.

Plaintiff Rogers (founder of the music group Chic) claimed that Defendants Wright and Martin (former Chic singers) infringed his rights in the service mark CHIC for music and vocal entertainment services. Rogers formed the group in 1977 and obtained service mark registrations for the band name in 1982 and 2004.

Chic

Wright and Martin, who previously performed on Chic albums and in live televised performances, had been performing in the U.S. and abroad since 2003. At various times, and without permission, they operated a Web site at www.ladiesofchic.com, and billed themselves as “First Ladies of Chic”, “Chic”, “The Original Ladies of Chic”, “Chic: Live!”, and “Les Chic”. They were billed by one venue as “original artists singing all the original hits.”

The court first found that Rogers had valid rights in the CHIC mark — regardless of whether those rights arose from the 1982 or 2004 registrations or from common law rights. The court then found a likelihood of confusion between Rogers’s mark and Wright and Martin’s use of the same using the 8-factor Polaroid test.

Specifically, the court found: (1) the CHIC mark was “at least moderately strong” in that it had created a tendency in the minds of consumers to associate it with Rogers’s band; (2) the defendants’ uses of the Chic mark (as noted above) were “sufficiently similar” to cause confusion; (3) the parties competed directly in the same market; (4) an analysis under “bridging-the-gap” was not required because of the third factor; (5) there was some evidence of actual confusion; (6) the defendants intended to take advantage of the plaintiff’s reputation and good will in adopting their various uses of his mark; (7) there was little evidence of the quality of defendant’s product; and, (8) similarly, there was little evidence of the sophistication of the relevant consumer group, i.e., concert attendees or promoters. Taking all of these factors together, the court found “little difficulty” in finding Defendants’ use of Plaintiff’s mark was likely to cause confusion.

The court was not persuaded by the defendants’ attempted fair use defense. The defendants had certainly used CHIC as a mark (and not, for example, mere comparative advertising or other descriptive purposes – see, e.g., Playboy Enters., Inc. v. Welles, 279 F.3d 796 (9th Cir. 2002). Moreover, the defendants’ promotional materials used the CHIC mark in a prominent manner. The court was similarly unpersuaded by the defendant’s argument that the Lanham Act did not apply to acts outside of the U.S.

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