Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
privacy, viral marketing, whois


Man Sues Former Employer For Not Updating Whois... And Then Acting Stupid

from the blame-game dept

Eric Goldman has the details on a fascinating case involving a guy suing his former employer for failing to update the whois info on their domain names (which used his names as the contact) and then pulling a bogus astroturfing marketing stunt that people started blaming him for organizing. Greg Meyerkord worked for Zipatoni, a "promotional marketing company." While there, he was the contact name on their domain registrations. He stopped working for Zipatoni in 2003. However, in 2006 Zipatoni was the company behind the disastrously stupid "fake" viral marketing campaign known as All I Want For Xmas is a PSP. After that was exposed, blogs went to town making fun of Sony... and Zipatoni. As part of that, people went to the whois and "outed" Meyerkord, including calling him a "douchebag."

Because of this, Meyerkord is suing Zipatoni, claiming a privacy violation. A lower court rejected this argument, but an appeals court has sent it back, saying there could be an issue if Zipatoni acted with "malice." That's probably going to be difficult, so the case may not be going anywhere. Goldman notes that it's pretty ridiculous that Zipatoni left the incorrect whois on the domain for so long, but it's not that surprising to me. With many registrars, it's pretty much a "set it and forget it" type of operation, where there's little need to ever review or change the info.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    hegemon13, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 6:37am

    6-month updates

    Emails requiring companies to confirm their information go out every 6 months as an ICANN requirement, so there should be no excuse for this. Either the registrar should have suspended the domain for failing to confirm the info, or someone confirmed the info incorrectly. If it was someone at Zipatoni, they should have some liability. If it was Meyerkord, then his lawsuit is way out of line.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Nathania, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 6:57am

    I think Meyerkord should sue the blogs and such that "outed" him. Surely a libel suit would work better, and blogs need to be careful with their "reporting" if they're going to engage in such activity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    knucklehead, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 7:01am

    Zipatoni or Meyerkord

    What hegemon13 says is true. Meyerkord would have received emails from ICANN every six months. It was his responsibility to change the information. All he needed was a technical contact at the company.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 7:02am

    Can be annoying

    This was likely particularly annoying for this guys since he worked for a SPAMMER. All the complaints and blacklist stuff would likely reference him and could create hassles. I dont know that he has a lawsuit, but I do understand how this could have created some aggrivation for him. (although he should have been more careful who he worked for in my opinion).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Robert Accettura, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 7:17am

    Libel suit would be better

    I'd think he should have a libel case against the former employer since they used his name for the purpose of defaming him and making him look like a participant even though he wasn't.

    As a previous commenter mentioned ICANN requires notification to keep WHOIS data updated... so they DID know to check it. They failed.

    IMHO a former employer shouldn't have rights to someones name or the ability to do business under their name once they leave the company. That's absolutely unethical.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Gatesy, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 7:32am

    Have to Disagree

    If a newspaper (remember what those were?) printed an erroneous statement, which could be construed as libelous, chances are the damage would be limited to the paper's area of market dominance. The paper would run a retraction and a few days later, it's forgotten. The papers have been tossed out, and the chances that millions of people saw the offending words are small.

    With the internet and all the technology involved, all of that has changed. Put one sentence up on a web page or "twitter" it and within an hour the entire free world could know about it. The damage done could be extensive and pervasive, since web pages are cached by all the search engines.

    Businesses that use the new technology to conduct their business can no longer just overlook this stuff. A business needs one or two people to be the contact point for such listings and data and they must stand prepared to make the changes within a very short time frame, depending on the situation.

    Why should the new technology users get a pass? A click of the mouse can undo a lot of erroneous data. In my opinion, Zipatoni bears a liability here, and if I were the judge, I'd find in favor of the plaintiff.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    mslade, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 7:34am

    Re: 6-month updates

    I own a slew of domain names, and have moved around a lot in the past 5 years. Most of them had outdated addresses until I swept through to clean them up a few weeks ago. GoDaddy, at the very least, does not care if your records are up to date, and certainly doesn't ping you about it every 6 months.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    John (profile), Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 7:40am

    Re: Zipatoni or Meyerkord

    re: Meyerkord would have received emails from ICANN every six months.

    Working from the reasonable assumption that the email address of record for Meyerkord would have been through Zipatoni, how could Meyerkord have received said email? Those emails have been going to a address (which, as an ex-employee, Meyerkord probably doesn't have access to anymore).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    SuperSparky, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 7:41am

    Contact info

    The easiest way to get any info changed is to change the info yourself. Since you are the contact, you can change the contact info. Just change it to the CEO's info, and I'm sure it will be given the right info promptly.

    There's no excuse for this from both sides.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    hegemon13, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 7:44am


    The blogs were using publicly available information. There source was the whois info, and it was perfectly reasonable to report that fact that Meyerkord was the whois contact. They have no liability and cannot be sued for libel. What they reported was true, and it is not their fault that neither Meyerkord nor the company followed through with updating the info.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    hegemon13, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 7:48am

    Re: Re: Zipatoni or Meyerkord

    Then why wasn't the domain suspended for failing to confirm the whois info? I was always responsible for acknowledging my company's info at our registrars, and they threatened suspension if it wasn't done. Do registrars not actually follow through with that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Dmitriy Plaks (profile), Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 7:57am

    Re: Libel suit would be better

    While I agree with your point that employers should not use former employees' names in these circumstances, is it actually illegal?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Michial, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 8:02am

    Blogging was the least of his issues

    I doubt that what others said in blogs is what motivated this guy to file. A few years ago I nearly lost my job because some crazy SOB got my name from a WhoIs record. The guy searched my name, found my resume, then called my employer making all kinds of accusations against me.

    The guy had subscribed to a maillist I administrated, then claimed that the 80+ emails per day were SPAM, and instead of following very simple instructions to remove his email, he decided that following those instructions would only make the emails worse so instead he set out on a campaign to create as much grief as he could for me.

    After threatening to sue my employer for the "SPAM" and getting called into the office manager's office, I was a little inclined to shut down that maillist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Monarch, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 8:24am

    Re: Libel suit would be better

    As much as I hate spammers, and would love to see them sued by the former employee. They did not USE his name for anything libelous. He probably used his name as the company contact when the WHOIS was set up.

    In my opinion, it was all Meyerkord's fault for not making sure the WHOIS information was changed and out of his name.

    And Registrars will not do anything with a domain name if they don't get an email response back for an update. They assume that if no response is made, the information is correct. The only way a registrar will pull a domain, is when the paid registration has expired and no renew is in the works. A registrar does not want to be sued for taking down a site just because an email was not returned for verifying contact info.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 8:32am

    Re: Have to Disagree

    Find in favor of what? Who was listed as the contact for the company? Where is the libel? That they didn't update a form that is usually fill out and forget, to a current employee's name? Come on, use a brain cell or two. The company may be a scumbag company, but they aren't committing libel for anything.

    I mean, come on! Meyerkord was the company's IT admin or web page admin when he worked for them. He set it up, he should have made sure it was changed when he left. But like I mentioned earlier, it's a fill out and forget about issue for the majority of companies out there.

    That is why when I used to create and maintain web pages for clients, I made sure to have the registrar information in the company owners name, not an employee, and then made sure that person had all the information they needed to update or make changes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Big Mook (profile), Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 8:33am

    Make the contacts generic

    I thought most companies had foregone using actual employees' email addresses in favor or generic names, i.e. This way, the generic name simply follows whomever might be the real contact at the moment.

    My company holds several domain names, but we don't get pinged every 6 months or even 6 years. The only time we get any communication is if the registration is about to expire and the registrar wants another payment.

    Hail Xenu!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    PaulT (profile), Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 8:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Zipatoni or Meyerkord

    I don't believe I've ever had to confirm any of the domain names I have bought through GoDaddy. They do email me to confirm every so often, but I don't think I've ever manually confirmed these notices, and all my domains still run. So, yes, either the threats aren't followed through with or not made to begin with.

    You seem to making 2 major assumptions in this thread, none of which are necessarily true:

    1. That the registrar is abiding by ICANN rules, and contacting the owner of the domain to confirm details (rather than, say, confirming themselves without customer contact).
    2. That the email address supplied is one still accessible by this guy and only this guy. It's quite feasible that the address was a webmaster@ type of deal, and the person now receiving this info ignored it and/or confirmed incorrect infomation.

    Given that neither of these are necessarily true, and it's possible that a domain could continue for years with incorrect information, what's your problem? Most of your comments so far seem to be suggesting that the guy must be lying - I don't think that's the case at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    ehrichweiss, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 9:05am

    Re: Contact info

    You may be the contact but you don't have any way of changing the info yourself necessarily. For example, if you had a company email address. I had a former employer list me at the contact and I got tons of crap from it, and, but couldn't do a lot about it until the company decided they wanted to renew the domain and had to correct it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    NullOp, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 9:40am


    When in doubt, sue the company! Remember kiddies, the company almost always acts in a way detrimental to the employees! Its about profit and bonuses for the brass!

    Having been named on whois documents I can assure you it is up to you to take care of updates. The company will NEVER in a million years think of it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Yakko Warner, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 9:45am

    Re: Re: 6-month updates

    I don't own "a slew", but the couple I've registered through Dotster and have held for seven years or so have never requested a contact update either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    batch, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 10:03am

    lack of common sense

    If the company had the IT admin use his contact info for the Registrar, then the next admin to replace Meyerkord should have updated the info. They had 3 years to discover and update. Who here is going to go and check with a former employer of any amount of time and verify that they have gotten rid of all references to you? Who really expects it to come back and haunt them?

    What motivation does this guy have to contact his successor and work to get the registrar info changed? None, if like me, he has better things to do, like go to work at his current job. If the next IT admin was qualified and knew how to do his job, he'd have Meyerkord's email forwarded to his account and have the passwords for obvious things like the account for the registrar and change the information. Otherwise, what happens when IT admin #3 joins? Does he still leave Meyerkords mailbox open??

    Zipatoni just seems to be employing an extremely lazy IT admin.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    hulk hogan, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 12:46pm

    Re: Zipatoni or Meyerkord

    > Meyerkord would have received emails from ICANN every six months.

    Yeah, to his address, which of course he would not have access to because it was his *former* employer, but thanks for playing. You win a consolation prize.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Rose M. Welch, Jan 22nd, 2009 @ 2:41pm

    Re: 6-month updates

    At last count, I own six domain names. (I just let one expire.) I have owned the oldest of them for six years. I have never received an update notice, although it's possible that Yahoo! received it and never bothered to tell me...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Dan, Jan 23rd, 2009 @ 12:02am

    My response would have been to contact the registrar and cancel the domain name and notify his ex boss afterward.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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