By Andy Carvin
Is the domain name glennbeckrapedandmurderedayounggirlin1990.com a violation of Glenn Beck's intellectual property? The conservative commenter certainly thought so, but an arbitration panel at the World Intellectual Property Organization has ruled otherwise.
Last month we reported that Beck had filed a complaint with the World Intellectual Property Organization over a satire Web site with the provocative domain name glennbeckrapedandmurderedayounggirlin1990.com. The name is inspired by a Gilbert Gottfried comedy routine in which he praises fellow comedian Bob Saget, but then begs people to stop accusing Saget of raping and murdering a young girl in 1990. The Web site, developed by Isaac Eiland-Hall, applied the joke to Glenn Beck as a way to critique his rhetorical methods.
Beck's lawyers argued that because "Glenn Beck" is a registered trademark, Eiland-Hall's use of his name in the Web site's domain violated that trademark, and the URL was "confusingly similar" to it. They also argued that Eiland-Hall's Web site didn't constitute fair use because he "had not made sufficiently clear that it is intended to convey criticism through a form of comedy (i.e., that it is a 'joke')."
The WIPO ruling, released late last week, ruled against Glenn Beck. It dismissed Beck's argument that Internet users could be confused by the domain name and its accompanying Web site. "Even a 'moron in a hurry,'" read the decision, quoting Eiland-Hall's attorney, "would not likely conclude that Complainant sponsored, endorsed or was affiliated with the website addressed by the disputed domain name."
Regarding Beck's argument that the domain name was defamatory, the arbitration ruling effectively punted. They acknowledged that the domain name in itself is "unflattering, pejorative and inflammatory," and said a court would be better suited to consider whether it was actually defamatory.
Beck's lawyers did not immediately respond to a request from us for comment on the ruling.
Normally, this might have been the end of the matter. After winning the dispute, though, Eiland-Hall published a scathing open letter to Beck:
It bears observing that by bringing the WIPO complaint, you took what was merely one small critique meme, in a sea of internet memes, and turned it into a super-meme. Then, in pressing forward (by not withdrawing the complaint and instead filing additional briefs), you turned the super-meme into an object lesson in First Amendment principles.
It also bears noting, in this matter and for the future, that you are entirely in control of whether or not you are the subject of this kind of criticism. I chose to criticize you using the well-tested method of satire because of its effectiveness. But, humor aside, your rhetorical style is no laughing matter. In this context of the WIPO case, you denigrated the letter of First Amendment law. In the context of your television show and your notoriety, you routinely and shamelessly denigrate the spirit of the First Amendment. The purpose of the expressive freedoms embodied in the First Amendment is not to simply permit the greatest possible scope of expression, but also, in doing so, to also strive for excellence in the conveyance of ideas. Rather than choosing to strive for excellence and civic contribution, you simply pander to the fears and insecurities of your audience. And in the process, you do them, and all of us, a great deal of harm.
Shame on you Mr. Beck.
Perhaps most surprisingly, though, Eiland-Hall stated that he no longer needed the domain name in question, now that he's successfully argued the right to own it. "I have no more use for the actual scrap of digital real estate you sought," he wrote. With that, he offers to turn over the domain to Beck, even supplying the user name and password to access it.
Does that mean the Web site that started this whole kerfuffle is gone forever? Hardly. Eiland-Hall has moved it to a new domain, gb1990.net. At the time of writing, the original domain
is still up and running was up and running, but has apparently just been shut down as of 3:15pm today. Another version of the domain, didglennbeckrapeandmurderayounggirlin1990.com, is still working, but that may be temporary as well. Anyone taking bets on what Glenn Beck will put in its place?
categories: Law & Policy