Hallowed Be Thy Name: Ron Paul Tries to Retrieve RonPaul.com

Former Texas Rep. Ron Paul is waging a fight to wrest his namesake Web address from the current owners. It's harder than it sounds...

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BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images

Former U.S. Representative Ron Paul speaks at George Washington University March 4, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Now that he’s no longer giving speeches on Capitol Hill, Ron Paul’s main platform for spreading his libertarian message is the Web. He’d like for his command center to be RonPaul.com. But right now, that domain name is owned by a cohort of his supporters, who since 2008 have used the address to post Paul-related news.

There is an existential logic behind Paul’s desire to own his eponymous domain. “Everybody knows that RonPaul.com should be Ron Paul,” the former congressman said when TIME spoke with him recently about life after Congress. “It’s your identity.” Yet the owners, including Tim Martin, who via email identifies the group as several expats living in Panama, aren’t ready to hand it over. That means recovering the address won’t be as simple as Paul’s reasoning.

Just ask Bill Clinton, whose attempt to recover williamclinton.com and presidentbillclinton.com failed in 2009. Those websites still redirect to the Republican Party’s homepage. Or ask Michael Bloomberg, whose company failed to take over michaelbloombergsucks.com when the magnate was running for New York City mayor in 2001. Back then, the site pointed to sucks.com, “a place where all people can get together and vent their grievances about Corporate America, American Politics and Politicians.”

One option politicians can use to recover control of their namesake websites is to accuse the owner of cybersquatting, the practice of buying domain names with the intent of selling them back to the “true” owners at inflated prices. That practice was outlawed in 1999, when Clinton signed the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act into law. But going to court is costly, in terms of time and money.

Politicians can also look to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is what Clinton, Bloomberg and Paul all did. ICANN is a nonprofit organization that helps govern the wild digital frontiers of the Internet, and approved arbitrators use its policy to settle disputes. When a politician requests a domain name to be transferred to them or cancelled, they have to prove three things: that the domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark to which they have rights; that the current owner has no rights to the domain name; and that the current owner registered and is using the site in “bad faith.” ICANN’s mediators can’t dole out monetary awards like juries, but using their policy is typically a cheaper, quicker process.

Beyond Sarah Palin, most politicians don’t attempt to register their names as trademarks, partly because most names aren’t unique. Take Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, whose eponymous website redirects to a store in Ireland called Everest Music. It’s run by an Irishman named Paul Ryan. However, public figures like Ron Paul have an additional argument at their disposal, which is that even in the absence of an actual registered trademark, they have “common law” rights to their name. “The words ‘Ron Paul’ have become synonymous with Dr. Paul’s political writings and discourse,” Paul’s lawyers argue in their complaint, filed through the World Intellectual Property Organization. The idea is that because Paul’s name has been used to identify certain goods (like books on liberty), the trademark is there by default.

Both Clinton and Bloomberg passed this first test, successfully proving that they had trademark rights. Bloomberg failed to pass the second, that the current owner has no rights to the name; the National Arbitration Forum ruled that using the domain name to promote free speech, rather than to extort money for instance, was a fair use. Clinton’s attempt failed at the third test, proving “bad faith.” Among many arguments, the former President claimed that an Internet surfer might be duped into thinking he’d defected to the Republican Party. The panel found that unconvincing: simply linking to the GOP’s website didn’t amount to malicious registration.

Ron Paul RNC convention

Mike Segar / REUTERS

So how will Paul’s case fair? Attorney Ari Goldberger, who won the case against Bloomberg in 2001, says that Paul’s seven books could help the former congressman establish a common law trademark. The fact that the site links to unofficial merchandise suggests the owners have tried to profit off Paul’s name, Goldberger says. Another point for Paul’s case is his allegation that the owners attempted to sell him RonPaul.com for $848,000, and then for $250,000 before the complaint was filed. On the other hand, RonPaul.com’s owners have long displayed a disclaimer saying the “fan site” is not officially associated with Paul, and they’ve produced nearly five years of posts about liberty and Paul’s sundry campaigns, which makes it hard to argue that they were all about the money from the outset.

Martin says that the owners started to make “a little” money off the merchandise starting in 2010 and that the offer to sell the domain name for $848,000 “was apparently made by the former owner.” He emphasizes that their offer to sell the site for $250,000 included a mailing list of 170,000 Paul supporters. And he says they would have handed over the domain name for free if they felt Paul had shown that “he honors and appreciates our hard work and support.”

The arbitrator is currently weighing all these arguments. In the end, Paul knows he may instead have to make do with a domain like DrRonPaul.com. Having the eponymous domain name “would be helpful,” he says. “But I figure if the name’s the whole thing, then my message isn’t strong enough.”

33 comments
CassieWilliams
CassieWilliams

I am very intrested in ron paul's idea,as I had not realized,he himself did not own the previous sites on which people post.

Dave_Zan
Dave_Zan

"cybersquatting, the practice of buying domain names with the intent of selling them back to the “true” owners at inflated prices."

Aside from what many people want to believe, that description is partly right. Although there isn't exactly any legal definition of cybersquatting, various legal and administrative decisions essentially describe it as registering a domain name to make money off of its trademark holder.

Here's one authoritative source (excluding Wikipedia) that may help:

http://homepages.law.asu.edu/~dkarjala/cyberlaw/ACPA-PL106-113.html

An idea behind it is that proving trademark rights is a bit easier than just claiming "this guy's cybersquatting the domain name because..." Of course, having a trademark is NO assurance one can grab its domain name-sake just like that.

While - again - many people believe what they want cybersquatting to be, I'm nonetheless putting that there with some logical, factual, reasonable basis to help explain and understand why.

Hopefully more details will come to light on what happened before, during, and after Mr. Paul filed the UDRP for his domain name-sake. From what I've been able to gather and understand, though, there was some degree of understanding on what can and can't be done on the domain name that later fell apart and led to all this.

(BTW, is there a command for quoting a phrase here?)

MagsiShao
MagsiShao

Ready for the best America meme yet? The new one up America meme is sure to give you a good chuckle. Some of these are just way too funny. Which one is your favorite? http://bit.ly/XoSk6Y

Sparrow55
Sparrow55

What kind of person doesn't have the sense to buy their own domain name before they become a well known public figure?  Oh, that's right, we're talking about Republicans. 

MrObvious
MrObvious

The market is holy, except for when you want something from the market.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Thanks, Katy. Do post here more often. I'm surprised that RP's web name owners, who are his own followers, are fighting the man himself and not respecting his wishes. I get the cybersquatting issue, but some caution needs to remain. There are other Michael Jordans beside THAT basketball player. Another Sarah Palin too? Of course, there can only be ONE Katy Steinmetz or journalist named Michael Scherer. Or is that Michael Shear? But those other people with same names do deserve the right to make a living with THEIR own name, however similar to the stars.


roknsteve
roknsteve

And Monsanto will soon own all the names of persons living and dead on this planet.  Because capitalism is all about fair trade.

cent-fan
cent-fan

"In the end, Paul knows he may instead have to make do with a domain like DrRonPaul.com. Having the eponymous domain name 'would be helpful,' he says. 'But I figure if the name’s the whole thing, then my message isn’t strong enough.' ”

He could try PaulRon.com and maybe get discovered by a whole new Googling base of followers... only perhaps with slightly lower IQ's.

trutherator
trutherator

Ron Paul has more sense (not to mention brains) in  his little pinky than Lenin's "useful idiots" and other government serfs in all their brains and bodies put together. 

  1. Proverbs 26:4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Proverbs 26:3-5 (in Context) Proverbs 26 (Whole Chapter) Other Translations
  2. Proverbs 26:5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.

jwyles
jwyles

@Sparrow55 He did buy the domain before he became well known...

It lapsed and went to auction before it could be renewed.  That's how the current owners got it and he is going through the process outlined in the contract to dispute that.

SaulRiddick
SaulRiddick

@Sparrow55 Your mom was advised to buy her own name before becoming street corner famous but she said no she did not have the time too busy with work...

Logical__Thinker
Logical__Thinker

@Sparrow55

Bill Clinton isn't Republican. He made a similar mistake, according to this article.

If we the people don't get past name calling and party-line snobbery, our country is doomed. Surely the founding fathers who had distinct differences among their points of view nonetheless were able to come together and reason with each other.

Laughing at someone or trying to find fault with someone just because they don't espouse your viewpoints is not going to help our country.

We have got to stop this lazy tendency. It's much harder to have reasoned discourse than knee jerk flaming retorts, but the latter attitude that

auronlu
auronlu

@deconstructiva On the other hand, if you'd set up a fan site for something, and put five years of blood, sweat and tears into it, had a lively community, had thousands of posts and discussions, and then the official entity said "We want to take over your site. Hand it over so we can control it,  enjoy the benefits of all the work you did to build this into a popular site with a large audience, and oh, you can do the work of moving five years worth of content to a new domain -- good luck getting all your followers to find it," would that be fair?

I think that would be somewhat anti-libertarian, using the law to seize someone else's work and efforts.


deconstructiva
deconstructiva

@roknsteveMore people need to spread their seed (literally), just as Nature, aka the wind, will blow Monsanto seeds from one farm to the next and ultimately ruin their plans for agri-global domination. You don't (fool) around with Mother Nature.


Sparrow55
Sparrow55

@cent-fan He could go with RandsDad.com.  It's still available on Godaddy for only $12.99. 

MissAnnThrope
MissAnnThrope

@jwyles @Sparrow55 Ron Paul never owned the .com.  It originally belonged to an Oregon restaurant owner with the same name, who offered to sell it to the campaign.  Paul declined, and the owner sold it on eBay.  Politician Paul had the .org, but it was intentionally retired when Campaign For Liberty was founded.  Now they've taken his name off the masthead, and suddenly he wants the domain he turned down at least twice.  

Sparrow55
Sparrow55

@jwyles @Sparrow55 Thanks for updating me on this.  I wasn't aware Ron Paul did, in fact, own his domain name but lost it when it lapsed.  The article didn't address that fact and knowing this now, it changes the entire context of what happened.  One of Ron Paul's  staffers probably got a one way trip to the woodshed for letting ownership of the domain name lapse.  While I still feel the GOP is woefully behind the times in the use of technology, I am retracting my criticism of Ron Paul on this particular issue. 

Sparrow55
Sparrow55

@SaulRiddick @Sparrow55 Personally insulting other people who post on these threads or their mothers doesn't really help in proving your point.  Normally, I would ignore a comment like yours, but in this instance, I'll make an exception.  I'm not really sure if my mother was advised to buy her own domain name before she made a name for herself, but she does own it now.  In fact, she very well could be street corner famous and she is very busy.  After all, my mother is a member of the second oldest (or possibly the third oldest) profession in the world.  She's an attorney. 

Sparrow55
Sparrow55

@Logical__Thinker I was once a proud member of the Republican party.  Because I had the gall to call myself a moderate, I was laughed at, called all kinds of names and told, very bluntly, I didn't have a voice in the party and I should leave.  I wanted to have a serious discourse with people in the party who had differing points of view, but I was told unless I was a "right thinking" person, I needed to shut up and go away.  I eventually left the Republican party because of their closed minded approach and registered as an independent.  I was truly hurt when I had to do that.  So, now that the Republican party is coming apart at the seams due to their refusal to stay relevant with a changing society, I feel I've earned the right to be critical of them.  If some of what I say on these boards sounds inelegant, it's nothing compared to what members of my former party said to me.  

Logical__Thinker
Logical__Thinker

...opps, got cut off.

the latter attitude that shows only a egocentric mindset is ultimately self-defeating.

trutherator
trutherator

@auronlu@deconstructivaThe government-enforced monopoly license on DNS names does not give anybody a "natural" right to any name. The Internet is a government-created monolith that forces all names into one system and therefore creates an arbitration system. The name-grabbers with the current "lease" --annual rent due every year-- of this ICANN-owned "virtual" territory poured their blood sweat and tears into this obviously to make something. They could not believe their good fortune that the dot-COM was available to them. They expected money from it, and if they are demanding a quarter million for the DNS entry, it's because they think it's worth money for them. 

https://trutherator.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/why-ron-paul-has-a-claim-on-his-name-in-the-internet-name-monopoly/

RickParker
RickParker

I understand your feelings, but if I setup a website with a famous person's name and then start selling items with that person's name or that person's message, that is NOT right.

The thousands of posts and fans of that website are not fans of the website for any reason other than learning and talking about Ron Paul and his ideas.

The follwers of Ronpaul.com are NOT followers of the people who own the domain.  In all likelihood, they are NOT there to support the owners of the website.  They are there for Ron Paul.

Further, Ron Paul does not need or want their mailing list.  He has his own.  I do not think he wants to control their website so that he can take advantage of all their hard work.  The website is not popular because of the hard work performed by the current website owners.  The website is populat because of Ron Paul.  Without him, there would be no website.  Period.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

@auronlu   Fair points. However, these people built their site upon someone else's name (RP's) and content. That's where it gets fuzzy. For more extreme examples, if you write a novel about a real person (let alone an unauthorized biography) without their permission, you risk a lawsuit. It's still your book but that alone won't guarantee a first amendment victory for you in court. If you make a Youtube video featuring a cover song, the original artist can go to Youtube and have your video pulled (and that does happen). It's possible to see a fan site face objection from the object of the site's attention.

auronlu
auronlu

@deconstructiva (And I should note that in my case, when I'd registered a domain and set up a blog on it, and someone said, "Oh, hey, there's a print fan magazine with the name you picked, I contacted the fan magazine on my own and offered them the domain. So I DO understand the value of owning your domain. But offering is a very different thing from having something you've built and sunk countless hours into taken from you.) 

trutherator
trutherator

@deconstructiva @roknsteve This is why government-granted monopolies on ANYTHING genetic is an atrocious and literally MONSTROUS idea. Read Michael Crichton's essay on it. He wrote the novel "Next" about the genetic splicing and dicing and there are going to be some bad things come from it.

SaulRiddick
SaulRiddick

Actually it does prove my point, so like I said she sold her soul. What's a 1000 attorney's at the bottom of the ocean, A GOOD START! Ask mommy where the 13th amendment went...

Dave_Zan
Dave_Zan

"I understand your feelings, but if I setup a website with a famous person's name and then start selling items with that person's name or that person's message, that is NOT right."

@RickParker - actually, you can do that to a point. U.S. law doesn't explicitly ban that practice except if the "famous" person can demonstrate trademark rights to his/her name.

Being famous doesn't equate trademark rights, unless that person is using his/her name to identify him/herself as a source of a good or service in commerce. Celebrities that endorsed products essentially can prove TM rights to their name, but not - say - American Idol participants before they became famous or so.

Dave_Zan
Dave_Zan

@RickParker - I guess we'll know when the decision comes out. While a UDRP decision doesn't actually give all the details, it at least cites specifics that influenced why.

RickParker
RickParker

How do you know what went on behind the scenes?  The answer is you don't.

MissAnnThrope
MissAnnThrope

@BernardBCarman And if Ron Paul actually cared one iota about his disciples, he would have had the grace to personally contact them and ask for it.

Instead, he pretended to negotiate by proxy, then used the fact that they responded as "bad faith." 

BernardBCarman
BernardBCarman

i happen to agree with Rick's sentiments, and while the $50k plan Trevor has suggested (http://libertycrier.com/politics/is-the-battle-over-ronpaul-com-really-a-battle-over-freedom-of-speech/) is certainly one good idea, i would not contribute to the current owners of RonPaul.com for the work they did for the Ron Paul Presidential campaigns.  MANY people contributed their time and energy for the campaigns — key word: "CONTRIBUTED". if these current owners of RonPaul.com are truly supporters of Ron Paul and his message of liberty, they would give him the URL… period.