Wednesday, April 21, 2010
This Article suggests the time is ripe for the United States Supreme Court to interpret the fair use defense of free speech or parody under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (“ACPA”). The ACPA was enacted in 1999 to protect consumers from “cybersquatting,” or when a non-trademark holder registers a domain name of a trademark and attempts to: (1) sell the name either to the holder for a ransom or to the highest bidder; or (2) divert or confuse consumers. Although published decisions from the circuit courts interpreting the ACPA continue to explore the marriage of trademark protection with the First Amendment’s protections of domain names and websites as free speech, a conflicting criteria has emerged regarding when an alleged cybersquatter can successfully assert the fair use defense. For example, the Tenth Circuit’s standard is that it must be immediately apparent to anyone visiting a parodic website that it was not the trademark owner’s website. However, the Fourth Circuit’s criteria is whether the domain name at issue conveys two simultaneous, yet contradictory, messages: that it is the original and that it is not the original and is instead a parody. Such inconsistent criteria has the potential to render an alleged cybersquatter victorious in one circuit, yet liable in another circuit.
This Article’s circuit-by-circuit analysis exposes the vast inconsistencies between the circuit courts’ decisions and argues that the United States Supreme Court should, by granting a petition for a writ of certiorari, articulate the standard for the ACPA’s fair use defense based upon free speech or parody.Download the article from SSRN at the link.