The appleimac.com Dispute
20 February 1999 - Dan Knight
Did you hear the one about the two 16-year-old boys in Canada who registered appleimac.com - and have now been threatened by Apple's lawyers?
If not, read Teen in dispute with Apple over domain on Cnet.
I don't want to get involved with the legal issues, other than make a few comments.
- InterNIC has always operated on the principle of first come, first served. It is not the role of InterNIC to determine whether an available domain name may be registered.
- In the courts, trademark owners are winning the right to protect their trademarks from domain name infringement.
When it comes right down to it, Apple would probably win in court, since the names Apple and iMac are registered trademarks, and the domain name does nothing to distance itself from Apple Computer.
But there's a lot more going on here than that; there's a lot of posturing taking place.
On one side, we see Apple as Goliath to Stan Berg and Abdul Traya of Traya Net as David. It's really hard to put a positive spin on a huge company like Apple suing a couple 16 year old kids.
On the other side, there is the fair use of trademarked terms. For instance, if I were to use the term Kleenex™ without capitalizing it and using the trademark symbol, I would fully expect to hear from the owners of that trademark, since such use dilutes their brand name. (BTW, in Canada the term aspirin is a Bayer trademark. Other pills may have the same active ingredients, but in Canada they are not aspirin.)
Starting last May, several iMac-related sites sprang up on the internet. This site was one of the early ones. Although I didn't try to register a domain name, the publisher of MacTimes did receive a letter from Apple legal about trademark infringement, dilution, etc.
Our response to Apple was that this was fair use of the term, that the site is clearly noted as not being affiliated with Apple, and that we do acknowledge that terms such as Apple, iMac, and Macintosh are Apple trademarks.
I'm sure other iMac sites were contacted as well, especially those with iMac in their name.
Can you imagine how much negative publicity Apple would have received if they had closed down every site about the iMac? Where we were actively promoting their new computer at no cost to Apple Computer, they could have turned that good will to ill will very easily.
From that perspective, I applaud Stand and Abdul for registering appleimac.com.
But they blew it. If they had set up an iMac site, they might have reason to complain when Apple asked them to surrender the domain name. But that doesn't appear to be the case.
Instead, the domain has suddenly generated a lot of publicity for their small internet company - some good, some bad.
I doubt the two have a legal leg to stand on, since they seeming never intended to use the domain for an Apple iMac site. Playing squatter on a trademarked domain name has rarely been a winning proposition.
On the other hand, Apple taking them to court won't make Apple look good, either.
The best possible outcome would be for Traya Net Inc. to surrender the domain to Apple in exchange for Apple reimbursing Traya Net the cost of registering the domain.
This would minimize legal fees by both parties and prevent either side from really losing. Traya Net would break even on registration fees. Apple would avoid looking like a Bondi Blue Meanie and obtain the domain appleimac.com for fair market value. And both sides would benefit from positive PR on the issue.
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