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First Amendment does not protect parody website name

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  1. Content Restrictions

    NMU         VIRGINIA         Copyrights & Trademarks         Jun 27, 2000    

First Amendment does not protect parody website name

  • A website that parodied PETA was denied First Amendment protection for use of the web address www.peta.org.

Website owner Michael Doughney was forced to relinquish rights to the website peta.org by a federal judge in Alexandria.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) brought suit against Doughney for trademark infringement and “cybersquatting,” the registering of an organization’s name as a website with the intent to resell the rights to the website to that organization.

Doughney argued he had not registered the domain name with any intent to sell it, but only with the intent to parody PETA — a use he argued was protected under the First Amendment. Doughney’s site name stood for “People Eating Tasty Animals,” he said, and described itself as “a resource for those who enjoy eating meat, wearing fur and leather, hunting and the fruits of scientific research.” The site could be reached through the address www.peta.org.

The court forced Doughney to give the website address to PETA and forbid him from using any website addresses in the future that “uses PETA’s marks and/or any colorable imitation of such marks, or any thing or mark confusingly similar.”

“The unique part of this case is that the domain name was part of the parody,” Doughney’s attorney Gary Davis said. “The legal question this presents is: can you do a parody on the net, part of which involves the domain name itself?” The federal court in Virginia emphatically said “no.”

(People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc., v. Doughney; Counsel: Gervaise Davis, Monterey, Calif.) JM


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