Not the Good Soldier
Photo by Jeanne RiceWould you pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of owning loretta sanchez.com? Dallas resident Chris Chapman seems to think someone will. The native Texan, who used to work for Assemblyman Jim Morrissey (R-Santa Ana), has registered lorettasanchez.com, loucorrea.com, loulopez.com, gloriamatta tuchman.com and tomfuentes.com. (Correa defeated Morrissey in the 1998 election.) And he has announced—online—that he's looking to sell them to the highest bidder.
"What I'm hoping to do is sell them to Republicans," Chapman said over the phone. "I don't want the Democrats to own their own names; however, it's not a sweetheart deal. I'm not the good soldier anymore."
As evidence of his newfound mercenary behavior, Chapman explained that GOP boss Tom Fuentes might ideally go to members of his own party who recently—as a group calling itself New Directions—pushed for his ouster in March 7 voting. Where that move failed, Chapman hopes to succeed. "I've to a call into New Directions right now to see if they want to buy it," he claimed.
Chapman said ideally he'll sell the domain names in a bundle for about $20,000 to Republicans, who presumably could then use the sites to campaign against the candidates in the fall election. He claims to have been in touch with a number of California Republicans, as well as the owners of the names, to see if they were interested, but so far he's without a nibble.
"If nobody bites and buys these sites from me, I'll run the websites myself," Chapman said. "Any time these Democrats vote for anything against the conservative philosophy, I'd let people know about it."
Chapman said he got the idea to register the names from a rather famous incident in the George W. Bush campaign, when a group of anti-corporate activists put up a parody Bush campaign site at www.gwbush.com. (Bush's campaign had registered dozens of variations on their official site address—www.georgewbush.com—but somehow overlooked that one.) Bush's escalating attempts to have the site shut down ultimately failed and led to his notorious comment at a press conference last year, "There ought to be limits to freedom."
"I thought, if George Bush couldn't get it done, who would come after me?" Chapman said.
Indeed, thus far Chapman's targets are showing a singular lack of interest in his machinations. When I called Correa's office, legislative director John Scribner's response to the news was to go off into hearty gales of laughter.
"Chaos in Webland," he said finally. "We expect the games to be played, and it looks like they've started."
Scribner said that his office was unaware of the website until my call and that at this point, they had no plans to go after it. "We would advise anyone who registered that name that they should not use it to mislead voters," he said. "I've bookmarked the site and will monitor it regularly."
Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez's office seemed similarly unconcerned. "I was aware that someone had registered the name, but we haven't heard from anybody about it," said a spokeswoman. She was, however, quick to share the address of Sanchez's forthcoming official campaign site, which I hereby pass along to you: www.loretta.org.
In one way, Chapman is fortunate there seems to be so little interest in his sites, since by registering other people's names and trying to sell them, he's entered into the realm of cybersquatting. Cybersquatting is the practice of deliberately registering domain names of trademarks belonging to other people (e.g., mcdonalds.com, ibm.com) and attempting to sell them for large quantities of cash. Laguna Beach store Hemp in the Hollow got targeted by one of these fellows last fall (see "Namesnakes," Sept. 3).
As usual, when large corporations get into trouble, Congress is there. Last November, Clinton signed into law the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, which outlawed the practice and provided for civil penalties of up to $100,000 per domain name. In Chapman's case, that's $500,000 in potential liability.
But he doesn't seem worried. "Congress passed the cybersquatting law, and what that said was if a name was currently trademarked, it's illegal to register it," Chapman said. "Personal names, especially those of public figures, are not trademarks. So I'm not in violation."
Chapman is mistaken. The Anticybersquatting Act specifically says that if someone registers a person's name for the express purpose of selling it, either to that person or to a third party, they are in violation of the act. The litmus test is "bad faith" intent: Has the person registered a number of similar names? Is the person running a site that is legitimately connected with the name they registered? Have they attempted to sell it?
The answers in Chapman's case are yes, no and yes, which you would think would make him a little nervous. But when I attempted to explain this to him, he seemingly failed to understand. "But it's not a trademark," he kept saying. "I'm on safe ground. There's nothing shady about this—I've covered myself either way."
Eventually, I gave up. Some people you just can't help.
Santa Ana attorney Shelley Liberto, who specializes in Internet and intellectual-property law, confirmed my interpretation of the act.
"Personal names are absolutely protected under the anticyberpiracy act," he said. "The whole idea is to avoid someone making money off someone else's personal name. If the person offered to sell the name, I'd think the bad-faith intent would stand, and he could be required to turn over the domain name.
"But if someone were to register and use the name for political purposes—to attack their position or even to support them—then they would probably be able to keep the domain name," he added. "Political speech is the highest form of protected free speech in the United States."
Hence Bush's singular lack of success in trying to shut down the gwbush.com site—which is acidulously critical of his past and his policies. But Chapman's loucorrea.com site, for example, contains only a few sentences stating that the name is available for sale to the highest bidder. To him, the site appears to be just a potential moneymaker.
"This is a business," he said. "I'm from Texas; we know how to barter."
TRY TO SELL WYN STUFF AT email@example.com.
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