TAMPA BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
Friday, October 15, 2010
1-800-Ask-Gary gripe site spawns complaint
An arbitrator recently paved the way for disgruntled 1-800-Ask-Gary customers to voice opinions online by allowing a Pinellas Park lawyer to keep the domain name askgarysucks.com. It has become an active Internet gripe site and a sounding board for comments regarding the lawyer referral service founded by Sarasota chiropractor Gary Kompothecras, who last June paid a little more than $1 million for a three-year deal to put his service’s name on the amphitheater in Tampa. The dispute between Kompothecras and David Neville, a personal injury lawyer, reflects the potential problems businesses can encounter with gripe sites and domain names. Neville was approached by the lawyer referral service about joining it several years ago. He has certain opinions about the service and declined.
“The domain name is my opinion,” Neville said. “The name sat there four or five years. I didn’t put any content up until after I was awarded the name in arbitration. It is not unfair, and nothing on the site links to my law office.” An arbitrator for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a nonprofit that promotes competition on the Internet and develops policies on identifiers, last month declined Kompothecras’ request to transfer to him the askgarysucks domain name. Kompothecras complained that the domain name was confusingly similar to his referral service’s trademark. The arbitrator did not agree, concluding that a reasonable person would not be confused about the Ask Gary trademark if it was appended by “sucks.”
The arbitrator also decided that promotion of the referral service through advertising campaigns, including the concert venue’s name, and publicity about class-action litigation involving lawyers in the referral service created “fertile ground for the generation of a protest site to develop.” Nicole Deese Newlon, a lawyer at Shutts & Bowen who represented Kompothecras, could not be reached for comment.
The mere act of registering a domain name means little, said Todd Timmerman, an intellectual property lawyer at Shumaker Loop & Kendrick in Tampa who was not involved in the dispute. What is done with the domain name and whether or not it involves “bad faith” registration are what can cause problems. “People have a free right to gripe as long as there is no commercial element,” Timmerman said. “It there is a commercial element to a gripe site, or it involves a competitor trying to damage a business, that may be deemed commercial activity. That could swing a decision by an arbitrator.” He has handled domain name arbitration cases for clients, which can cost a business around $5,000 or “multiples of that” if the dispute becomes aggressive.
Many gripe sites and domain names using the word sucks exist on the Internet, and some involve protests about huge corporations. The key is for businesses to get out ahead of problems that cause people to register protest domain names, said Chris Karlo, a partner at Mercury New Media in Tampa. “Gripe sites are not uncommon and have been around for decades,” he said. “When you start talking about ‘sucks’ and gripe sites, it comes back to businesses not causing people to put up those sites. They’ve been provoked or they feel wronged. People don’t randomly attack businesses.” Karlo recommended businesses use reputation monitoring programs, which quickly identify customer service problems. “Some monitoring is free, and some companies have sophisticated software and a monitoring team,” he said. “You need to be proactive and use the tools available to keep a pulse on it.”
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