from the this-would-appear-to-be-a-mistake dept
A year ago, we pointed out how hypocritical it was for Ron Paul (at the time still a Congressional Representative and a candidate for President) to file a ridiculous lawsuit, clearly abusing trademark law, in an effort to unmask some anonymous internet users who had made a video that attacked another candidate, John Huntsman, and closed with a claim that the video was from Ron Paul supporters. Many of Pauls’ supporters actually believed the video was a fake, from Huntsman supporters, seeking to discredit Ron Paul. Even if that was true, there was simply no excuse to then abuse trademark law to try to take away someone’s anonymity. And, yes, it was an abuse of trademark law — as he both claimed trademark on his name and claimed that the video was a “use in commerce” (it was not). Even if you believe the videomakers should have been exposed, I would hope you’d agree that abusing a totally unrelated law to do so would be a mistake, and (to us) seemed to go 100% against the things Ron Paul claimed to stand for. Thankfully, a judge quickly agreed and killed the lawsuit.
In writing about this, many of Paul’s more ardent supporters trashed us both in our comments, and on various Ron Paul websites. I’m a little curious how they feel now, in a similar situation, where Ron Paul has turned his legal sights on them. As a whole bunch of folks have sent in, Ron Paul has filed a UDRP complaint against the site RonPaul.com, seeking to have WIPO turn over the domain to him. RonPaul.com has basically been the central source for the massive grassroots effort that supported Ron Paul in his last two Presidential campaigns — leading many other candidates to envy Paul’s ability to connect with the internet generation. The reality, of course, was much of that actually had to do with a few of his most dedicated fans, and their ability to spread his message via a series of grassroots websites, including RonPaul.com. To have Paul turn around and seek to have WIPO turn over the domain is incredible on so many different levels, once again suggesting that many of the things Ron Paul claims to have believed in go completely out the window at times — even when it involves turning on the very people who built up his reputation.
Even more bizarre is that not only is he turning on his most ardent supporters and effectively taking them to court, but he’s using WIPO, a part of the United Nations, to do so. Ron Paul hates the UN and would like the US to leave the UN. As he once said:
The choice is very clear: we either follow the Constitution or submit to UN global governance. American national sovereignty cannot survive if we allow our domestic laws to be crafted by an international body. This needs to be stated publicly more often. If we continue down the UN path, America as we know it will cease to exist.
And yet, here he is, running to the UN, and trying to forcefully take away a super successful site from his biggest fans supporting him, using the force of that same United Nations? Incredible.
Reading through the background and history, and then digging into the claims Paul’s lawyer makes, suggests that Paul has made a huge mistake here. The backstory is that in a recent interview Paul expressed some minor regret that he did not hold the domain:
Alex Jones: Well, God bless you, sir, I hope we can get you back again in a month. What are any other websites that are important, just www.CampaignForLiberty.org?
Ron Paul: There’s that, and we’ll be listing some new things there because we’re making some other WebPages. I’m going to have a home page. Unfortunately, I didn’t have RonPaul.com, so I’m going to have to have RonPaulsHomepage.com. That will be coming up, but it’s not ready yet.
In response, some of his fans told the site’s operators they should look to hand over the site. The operators noted that over the past 4.5 years, and through two high profile Presidential campaigns, they were at the center of building up massive grassroots support for Paul, and they had not had any request for the domain, but they were happy to talk it over:
On May 1st, 2008 we launched a grassroots website at RonPaul.com that became one of the most popular resources dedicated exclusively to Ron Paul and his ideas. We put our lives on hold and invested 4.5 years of hard work into Ron Paul, RonPaul.com and Ron Paul 2012. Looking back, we are very happy with what we were able to achieve with unlimited enthusiasm and limited financial resources.
As we haven’t heard from Ron Paul or his staff for several years we do not know if there is any tangible interest in utilizing RonPaul.com for Ron Paul’s new projects. We have prepared a cordial message for Ron Paul that we will gladly forward to him or to any person who credibly identifies himself as part of his current staff.
Eventually, they did get in touch with the campaign, and realizing that taking down everything that had already been on RonPaul.com would represent the dismantling of a very vital community, they hoped that he would accept RonPaul.org as an alternative for free. However, if he really wanted RonPaul.com, they were willing to give that up as well, including their massive mailing list of Paul fans, for $250,000 — not an unreasonable sum for all the content and community they had built up over the years. You can see their full letter here or embedded below. It’s very cordial, makes a strong argument for why disrupting the existing RonPaul.com would be a mistake that harms Paul’s supporters and message, and makes those two offers. Perfectly reasonable.
In response, Paul and his lawyers didn’t just reject the request, they actually use it against them, misrepresenting the offer, the site and the entire history, in a ridiculously misleading attempt to show malicious intent on behalf of the folks who run the site — who most people would consider some of Ron Paul’s most important supporters. The WIPO filing is really a guffaw-inducing piece of work. It doesn’t just present one side of the story, it goes out of its way to imply things that are clearly untrue about those who run RonPaul.com — suggesting that the whole effort was some sort of scam to extort money from Paul. A few quotes:
Respondents can demonstrate no legitimate purpose for registering domain names identical to Complainant’s RON PAUL mark.
Other than, you know, building up a massive and widely envied internet grassroots support campaign for two high profile Presidential campaigns, as well as many of the key issues that Ron Paul (supposedly) believes in. Somehow, Paul’s lawyers forget to mention that part.
There is no evidence that Respondents have used or in connection with a bona fide offering of goods or services.
Apparently trying to get Ron Paul elected is not something that Ron Paul considers a “bona fide” service.
They even imply that these guys only registered the domains to try to get Ron Paul to give them money for the domains. Apparently those 4.5 years of building up a massive and vocal grassroots online community supporting Ron Paul campaigns was just a ruse or something:
Under the UDRP, bad faith can be shown where the respondent registered the domain name primarily for the purpose of selling it to the trademark owner or to a competitor of that complainant, for consideration in excess of respondent’s out-of-pocket costs.
This claim is clearly hogwash. Considering everything that’s been done on the site, to argue that the “primary” reason to was to get Paul to pay up is laughable. It’s made even more laughable by reading the actual offer to Ron Paul from the domain holders, in which they make it clear they’d rather not sell the domain at all, and offer him a free alternative. It is abundantly obvious that selling the domain was not the “primary” reason for registering the domain, and it was so far down the list that they asked him not to buy the damn thing at all.
Further evidence of bad faith comes from Respondents’ registration and use of the
domain names to intentionally attract Internet users for commercial gain by creating a
likelihood of confusion with Complainant’s RON PAUL mark… In
this case, Respondents must have known of Complainant’s famous mark prior to registering
the domain names. Respondents registered the domain name, utilizing the Complainant’s
mark, in order to suggest to internet users a connection between the domain names and
Complainant. This is misleading and supports a finding of bad faith registration.
There is a high likelihood that users will be confused and believe that Complainant is the website’s source, sponsor, or is some way affiliated with or endorses the website. If not for this likelihood of confusion, the rental value of the domain names would be significantly decreased.
This claim of trying to create a likelihood of confusion might sound reasonable at a first glance… except that the handy dandy Internet Archive shows that, from way back when these supporters first launched the grassroots site, the site had a prominent disclaimer that noted they were not directly associated with Ron Paul. That link above shows you what the site looked like less than 3 weeks after the domain was registered. It has the following prominently marked:
The RonPaul.com website is maintained by independent grassroots supporters of Ron Paul. Neither this website nor the articles, posts, videos or photos appearing on it are paid for, approved, endorsed or reviewed by Ron Paul or his Campaign. For Ron Paul’s official website, go to RonPaul2008.com
That’s in the sidebar. At the bottom there’s the following disclaimer:
The RonPaul.com website is maintained by grassroots supporters. It is not paid for, approved, endorsed or reviewed by Ron Paul & Campaign.
In other words, from the very beginning, they were explicit that they were grassroots supporters, and not the campaign or the candidate. For Paul and his lawyers to argue otherwise is simply ridiculous.
Respondents later offered to sell <ronpaul .com> to Complainant for $250,000 and to provide <ronpaul .org> as a “free gift” with the purchase of <ronpaul .com>.
This reaches a level that one might call “lying.” The original letter is quite explicit. They would prefer not to sell RonPaul.com at all, and the offer of RonPaul.org for free was not “with the purchase of <ronpaul .com>” but a no-strings-attached offer to Ron Paul if he wanted to use RonPaul.org as his future domain (since it would be less disruptive to his grassroots supporters).
When you read through all of this, it’s really quite incredible. Not once does the filing even hint at what the domain has been used for over the past 4.5 years. If you read the filing without context, you’d think that it was solely devoted to a commercial site pretending to be Ron Paul’s real site, and the entire effort was built up just to try to sell it to Paul. For a politician who built up his grassroots supporters in large part because of his authenticity and his willingness to speak honestly and truthfully about issues, to turn on his biggest supporters with a pile of hogwash, while clearly abusing a process he doesn’t even believe in, to try to forceably take away the site from his fans… is incredible.
As the operators of the site themselves note:
Back in 2007 we put our lives on hold for you, Ron, and we invested close to 10,000 hours of tears, sweat and hard work into this site at great personal sacrifice. We helped raise millions of dollars for you, we spread your message of liberty as far and wide as we possibly could, and we went out of our way to defend you against the unjustified attacks by your opponents. Now that your campaigns are over and you no longer need us, you want to take it all away – and send us off to a UN tribunal?
Who knows who is advising Paul on this move, but this seems like a massive miscalculation. Maybe he doesn’t care any more, now that he’s out of Congress. Maybe he’s decided that all those years of standing up as a principled politician can be thrown out the window because he really wants RonPaul.com. Either way, this seems destined to be a stain on his legacy.
Filed Under: bad faith, domain name, ron paul, ronpaul.com, ronpaul.org, trademark, trademark abuse, udrp, united nations, wipo