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Old 06-12-2005, 01:44 PM   #1
Alexander Turcic
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Forum operator sued for a wrongful username

This post is slightly off-topic; but considering that MobileRead runs a community forum, I thought it in our best interest to tell you of the following story that is currently happening in Germany.

Q: Can a private forum operator be sued if one of his members is offending existing laws by selecting a particular user name?

A: The private operator of a German bodybuilding forum received a cease-and-desist letter last Friday for one his forum members using a registered trademark as a user name. The trademark was registered in Germany in 1999 and apparently has never been in use nor is it related in any way to bodybuilding. Nevertheless, the lawyer specified the amount in dispute at 100,000 Euro (~120,000 USD) based on the number of registered forum members (~30,000) and number of posts (~385,000). At no time did the operator commercially benefit from someone displaying the trademark on his forum; his site has been financed solely by Online ads and commissions from an Online store. He received three days (of which two are non-business) time to reconsider, to remove all traces of the trademark on his board, and to end the dispute by paying an agreement and consulting fee of 5,206.31 Euro. Otherwise he would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The operator is currently obtaining legal counsel and evaluating his options.

If the case goes to court and the trademark holder receives a favorable judgment, the consequences would be disastrous for all forum operators. While the MobileRead community is still relatively small with around 3,700 members, imagine a community such as IGN Boards which has over 1,250,000 registered members! It would be virtually impossible for a forum operator to evaluate each user name and to guarantee that the name is not violating any trademarks or copyrights.

Another unfortunate example of the systematic misuse of a trademark ;(
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Old 06-12-2005, 02:25 PM   #2
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So if my username were for instance Palmonefan, P1 could actually sue you?
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Old 06-12-2005, 02:39 PM   #3
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Hopefully this will turn out to be just another frivolous lawsuit that goes away with no impact.

I think doctorow had better watch out, though!... There might be a doctor out there who want to sue him for infringing on their medical title!
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Old 06-12-2005, 04:26 PM   #4
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Next they'll claim that using a particular name embodies some sort of traits upon you.

I must be a hacker because my name says so. Why not extend the whois ruling to include that you must use your real name everywhere you go? Why not just require that no "handles" can be used anywhere.

What the hell is this world coming to?

It all started with that McDonalds "hot coffee on the lap" incident. It should have gone like this:
Good morning, everybody please sit down. Court is now in session...

Hot coffee on the lap, and you're suing McDonalds? You know coffee is hot, and you know pouring it on your lap will burn you. Get out of my courtroom!
I'm all for "Truth in Sentencing", and I think we need people to stand up in the courtroom and denounce this frivolity. Its wasteful of taxpayer time, money and effort.
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Old 06-12-2005, 04:29 PM   #5
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If this does actually succeed... It has rather large ramifications for a fair number of forums, especially smaller ones. I'm a person who watches anime, and visits anime-related forums. Most of them have some users using names with partial or full titles of various anime-related things, at least some of which are registered trademarks.

It will be quite a large problem for almost anyone running a forum if this actually goes anywhere. (Although it would be exceedingly idiotic if the person who ran the forum actually was responsible for the users choice of username...)
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Old 06-12-2005, 08:58 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by doctorow
So if my username were for instance Palmonefan, P1 could actually sue you?
No, but the rest of us should sue you for actually being a PalmOne fan.
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Old 06-12-2005, 09:07 PM   #7
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Okay, okay POL... no cheap shots, please!
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Old 06-12-2005, 09:10 PM   #8
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This reminds me of when I ran a BBS back through most of the 80's while I was in high-school and for a few years afterwards... "hacker heaven BBS" (not part of the "Cherry Hill Gang's BBS of the same name).

I was carrying lots of e-Zines (Phrack, T@P, Zone, lots of others) and I also had several thousand source files for viruses online for other developers to learn from. I also had an online database (ran through "Doorway") that would let anyone look up viruses, check their affects, and other data on them. I never carried any cracks, hacks, or other copyrighted material. JUst lots of information, lots of files, and lots of message bases, organized into categories for almost every topic.

I was petitioning for access into Fidonet, and knew my local Node Coordinator personally. We manage to secure "1:320/2600" (get it? 2600? <grin>) as my Fidonet address (really, you can Google it).

I was also a strong privacy advocate, even back then. I had several message bases dedicated to privacy, and one of them was exclusively for PGP encrypted messages. I didn't know or care what went on through that message base, as long as it remained encrypted with PGP. It was pretty popular.

Since my message bases were gated through other nodes upstream, they started "losing" my PGP message bases, then eventually all of my other message bases. They demanded that I "decrypt" these messages and check to make sure nothing illegal was happening, and scan every message for viruses.

"Decrypt" PGP messages... yeah sure, I'll get right on that.

Eventually the upstream node coordinators got fed up with my policies, and the fact that I refused to decrypt the messages or reduce the privacy of my users. They even said I was "required" to get a real name, phone number, and physical mailing address of my users.

Why? Why would I ever want or need that information? How would I know it was valid? Am I going to call all of my users just to "check" on them? Heck no.

My BBS required two things to sign up:

1. A username, preferrably not your "real" name
2. A password, preferrably a strong one

That's it. From that point, you got 90 minutes per-day to do whatever you wanted on the site.

So myself and my friend (the upstream node coordinator I was echoing message bases through) decided to start gating Usenet into our message bases, and back to Usenet. We both ran OS/2 at the time, and a developer who wrote the newsgate software (Watergate) wanted our help to beta test it. This was my first venture into Open Source and collaborative development.

It was my also first "real" exposure to the Internet.

From here, I joined a group called "NirvanaNET", which believed in the same sort of privacy and Freedom of Speech issues that I did. After a pretty rigorous voting period, I was allowed in. This was my first real experience with a lot of issues related to oppression, freedom of speech, and many other topics which I hold dear today. I'm still listed out there in some of their text files.

To bring this full-circle, I was persecuted by the upstream node coordinators, who were deleting my users messages, censoring our communication, and making it hard for anyone to talk to anyone else. They were holding me personally responsible for allowing my users to remain anonymous, private, and for giving them tools to ensure their privacy and security.

(You can read more about it over here, at an old version of my biography page)

This kind of activity disgusts me, and I will continue to fight against it every time I see it, including this one.
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Old 06-12-2005, 09:24 PM   #9
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I am but a man.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BobR
Okay, okay POL... no cheap shots, please!
I know, but the temptation was just too great. I'm actually going to need PalmOne to step up their featureset when my Zodiac2 needs replacing since they're the only Palm OS PDA manufacturer. For now.

Don't worry doctorow, I won't sue you.
POL9A
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