ICYMI, the “sunrise period” for the .SUCKS domain name ends one week from tomorrow on June 19th. After that period, it’s up for grabs among the general public.
Many brands and their PR firms are very concerned–as is actor Kevin Spacey of House of Cards fame.
Why do they care, and why should your clients pay very close attention? To learn more, we spoke to Andrew L. Goldstein, a partner in the Corporate Practice Group Illinois law firm Freeborn & Peters LLP.
What risks do clients face by not registering by the deadline?
A lot of big consumer-facing brands obviously think it’s a big risk…but the “this brand sucks” sites or “gripe sites” have been around for a while. Do a little searching on Facebook; it’s a new twist on something that’s been around for a while.
I counsel clients by asking, what’s your tolerance level? If you’re not comfortable with someone else having that name, then do something about it…don’t just say “OMG, we have to do something.”
The guys at Vox Populi [which bought the .sucks domain] are really clever. If I’m ACME Bank and someone buys ACME.sucks, I could take an action against that guy for trademark infringement. But he can claim first amendment rights, and that’s how these cases have turned out–it’s a “legitimate place for people to air their gripes.”
Who needs to be most concerned?
Big brand companies. Apple, Microsoft, Coca-Cola etc. have already acted, and the San Francisco 49ers made headlines by doing so. The Chicago Blackhawks have also registered.
Registry.sucks is like a splash page for Vox Populi; scroll down and you can see a scrolling ticker listing the companies that have registered.
Where does Kevin Spacey come into this story?
He was supposedly one of the first to register. He was worried that someone would create an entire property to blackmail and/or defame him. Libel laws make clear that they can’t say untrue things, but they could certainly say that his movies suck. People like Perez Hilton spread personal gossip while staying within those boundaries.
To register for the sunrise period, you have to have an active, valid trademark registration with the Trademark Clearing House or other company. The process takes 8-10 months, and Spacey has several applications pending including one covering entertainment services and one covering T-shirts.
What have you heard about related trends?
Some of the bigger companies register both their brand names and the names of their C-suite executives. Worst case scenario is the CEO’s kid surfing online, Googling dad’s name and finding JohnDoe.sucks. Then it’s time to call the lawyer.
How can a client determine whether the domain is worth the money?
That depends on the industry, size of the business, and size of the budget. Consumer-facing businesses like hospitals are more concerned; among manufacturing clients it’s a passing concern, but I doubt they’ll act on it.
What can nervous clients do if they haven’t acted by now?
One of two things: you take your chances and “pre-order” the domain for after the sunrise period. Or you can find other foreign countries with quicker, simpler trademark registration processes. I hear that people have been visiting those countries, registering very quickly, and moving ahead of the “sunrise” period. As I understand it, that’s how the CEOs and CMOs are getting their names registered.
Again I ask, what’s your tolerance level? If the company is worried and registers ACME.sucks, a “bad guy” could still secure ACMEreally.sucks. You can’t plug all the holes, so it becomes a slippery slope; the process could be endless.
Pics via Netflix