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Parody defense falls flat in cybersquatting case

By The Associated Press

08.26.01

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RICHMOND, Va. — An Internet entrepreneur must surrender his original Web address for People Eating Tasty Animals, a parody of the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton's order that Michael T. Doughney relinquish the address http://www.peta.org. That is now the address for the animal-rights group's Web site.

Doughney, of College Park, Md., reserved that address with Network Solutions, the Herndon-based registrar of Internet domain names, in 1995 and used it for about six months. The company put the site on hold after PETA complained in 1996, and Doughney moved People Eating Tasty Animals to http://www.mtd.com/tasty.

The site describes itself as "a resource for those who enjoy eating meat, wearing fur and leather, hunting and the fruits of scientific research (and more!)."

PETA, the animal-rights group, accused Doughney of trademark infringement and cybersquatting — registering names of companies or groups in the hopes of selling them to their namesakes.

Doughney claimed he was simply parodying PETA, which is protected speech under the First Amendment.

Hilton ruled that Doughney must limit his use of domain names to those not "confusingly similar," and the appeals court agreed.

"Looking at Doughney's domain name alone, there is no suggestion of a parody," Judge Roger Gregory wrote. "The domain name peta.org simply copies PETA's Mark, conveying the message that it is related to PETA."

PETA also has found itself on the other end of cybersquatting disputes.

In 1998 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus sued PETA, which had registered www.ringlingbrothers.com for a site where it posted allegations that the circus mistreats animals. PETA agreed to transfer the domain name to Ringling Bros. in exchange for withdrawal of the lawsuit.

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Public Citizen hails decision as 'point on the scoreboard for First Amendment rights' on Internet.  05.15.01

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'Such use of the mark is not protected by the First Amendment,' court rules in rejecting parody defense.  04.26.00

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