Friday, October 29, 2010

Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Just because a court of law issues an order making findings of fact and conclusions of law does not mean that those facts and conclusions reflect the real truth. It only reflects a decision by the court based on the evidence and arguments presented to the court. Thus, a court decision may reflect the truth or may simply reflect the only factual conclusion that the court could reach based on the incomplete picture presented to it by the parties.

Such is the case with the cybersquatting and trademark infringement lawsuit brought by New York-New York Hotel & Casino, LLC (“NY-NY”), the company which owns the New York New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas (pictured above), against California resident Ronnie Katzin and his wholly-owned corporation,, Inc., over the domain name (the “Domain Name”). See New York-New York Hotel & Casino, LLC v. Katzin et al, Case No.09-cv-02139 (D. Nev.). On October 28, 2010, the Nevada district court issued an order (link here) granting NY-NY’s Motion for Summary Judgment against Defendant Defendant Katzin and finding as a matter of law that Katzin was liable for cybersquatting and trademark infringement with respect to his use of the Domain Name.

But as mentioned in the title above, don’t believe everything you read. For reasons detailed in my previous blog post regarding this case (link here), I believe the court’s decision is wrong. But as this case demonstrates, it’s often not enough that the defendant be in the right – a defendant has to be able to present factual evidence and make effective arguments to the court supporting its position that it is right in the face of accusations (however baseless) to the contrary by another party. And when you have to hire attorneys to help you do this in court, establishing that you are in the right suddenly becomes an expensive proposition.

In this case, Katzin, apparently not in a financial position to hire an attorney to fight NY-NY’s highly questionable allegations, decided to fight NY-NY pro se. But like many pro se litigants, he didn’t have the legal background and experience to put together factual evidence arguments in a way that would have been receptive to the court (and of course, with respect to, Inc., because only lawyers can represent corporate entities in federal court and Katzin is not a lawyer, he was prohibited from filing any papers on behalf of his corporation).

The only positive thing about this order is that the court, recognizing the circumstances of the case, exercised its discretion and only awarded NY-NY $1,000 in statutory damages (the minimum amount of statutory damages for cybersquatting) – along with another “nominal” award of $1,000 for “corrective advertising” [ed.—correcting what?]. This is probably the best the court could do under the circumstances to send the message that while the court may have found Katzin liable for cybersquatting (and trademark infringement), he is not really a cybersquatter and did not really cause any significant harm to NY-NY’s precious trademarks.

The court’s awarding of $1,000 in statutory damages is a far more reasonable determination than the court’s previous awarding of the maximum statutory damages of $100,000 against, Inc., as part of the default judgment entered by the court after no attorney made an appearance on behalf of the corporation to answer NY-NY’s allegations (and Katzin’s Answer filed on behalf of the corporation was struck since, as previously mentioned, Katzin is not a lawyer who could file an Answer on behalf of a corporate entity).

Having previously granted a default judgment against Defendant, Inc., which resulted in the transfer to NY-NY of what NY-NY was really after in the first – the extremely valuable domain name, the court’s decision (assuming no appeals are filed) effectively brings this example of injustice to an end.

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