Suing the previous owner of a domain name
A Connecticut man has filed a lawsuit (pdf) against the domain name MilesSpencer.org. But there’s a big problem with the case that I’ll get to shortly.
Miles Spencer filed the lawsuit against John Does and in rem against the domain name, meaning he’s suing the domain name itself. Filing an in rem cybersquatting lawsuit is a common tactic to recover a domain name when the defendant can’t be identified.
Typically, these suits are filed in the jurisdiction where the registry is located so that the court can demand the registry hand over the domain. This lawsuit was filed in Connecticut instead. The case argues that includes jurisdiction over Google Registrar (more on that later).
Spencer is an angel investor and co-creator of “Money Hunt,” which was distributed through PBS stations. He says the show was similar to Shark Tank.
According to the lawsuit:
The Domain was utilized to seek payment on a note that was discharged in bankruptcy and the continued efforts to collect the note following the bankruptcy filing and particularly following the discharge are a violation of relevant bankruptcy code and are fraudulent. Those documents were hosted on a wordpress site/server associated with [link removed] (the “Link”) which is now de-activated.
Defendant’s use of the Domain is not entitled to a fair use defense at least because Doe Defendants fraudulently and with unclean hands attempted to solicit payment on a note
allegedly due from Mr. Spencer that was discharged under bankruptcy or was otherwise prohibited from collection efforts in violation of 11 USC 524. Thus, to the extent the use of the
Domain is alleged to be commentary on Mr. Spencer, any alleged “commentary” was a fraudulent and unlawful attempt to collect on a discharged note and is therefore not protected speech.
In other words, Spencer argues that someone was trying to use the site to say bad things about him.
To bolster the claim, the lawsuit includes a screenshot of MilesSpencer.org dated June 23, 2022.
So here’s the big problem: the previous registrant of the domain (who allegedly cybersquatted with the domain) doesn’t own it anymore. The domain expired on July 26 and was registered by a new person on September 2. The lawsuit wasn’t filed until September 22.
The plaintiff’s attorneys said they filed a notice with Google Registrar about the lawsuit, but the domain is registered at Register.com.
According to Whois, the new registrant’s name is Miles Spencer.
This means Spencer filed his lawsuit against the domain even though it’s owned by someone else now, and that person might well also use the name Miles Spencer.
Some of the demands the plaintiffs made in the suit, such as damages against the Doe defendants, could still stand though.
I emailed Spencer’s attorneys last week to ask about the discrepancy and have not heard back.
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