Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Golden Nugget's Cybersquatting Campaign

GNLV, Corp., the company which owns the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino in downtown Las Vegas (as well as Golden Nuggets in Laughlin and Atlantic City), continues its campaign to go after cybersquatters. After a two year lull of filing any type of cybersquatting lawsuits, GNLV has now filed five since April 27, 2011. [Ed.—Is this perhaps a sign of the improving economy that a gaming company is willing to invest the money to pursue such lawsuits in order to obtain (and/or prevent others from using) domain names of questionable value?]

In late April, GNLV Corp sued German resident Luca Mueller over the domain (with an extra “d” in the spelling of Golden) which GNLV alleged linked to an online gambling site. See GNLV, Corp. v. Mueller, Case No. 11-cv-00663 (D. Nev. Filed April 27, 2011). (VegasInc article here.) Later in May, GNLV Corp. sued Kanter Associates over the domain name (with an extra “t” in the spelling of Nugget) which GNLV alleged linked to a travel reservation website. See GNLV, Corp. v. Kanter Associates SA, Case No. 11-cv-00827 (D. Nev. Filed May 20, 2011). (VegasInc article here.)

On May 31, 2011, GNLV filed three more cybersquatting lawsuits. The first lawsuit against Harald Ebert relates to the domain name, which GNLV claims is linked to a website which offers “links to many of the same wagering games that are offered at Plaintiff’s casino resorts, such as Blackjack, Poker and Slots.” See GNLV, Corp. v. Mueller, Case No. 11-cv-00875 (D. Nev.). The second lawsuit against Marco Eckstein relates to the domain name, which GNLV claims is linked to a website which offers “links to many of the same wagering games that are offered at Plaintiff’s casino resorts, such as slots.” See GNLV, Corp. v. Eckstein, Case No. 11-cv-00878 (D. Nev.). The third lawsuit against Hilary Moore involves the domain name See GNLV, Corp. v. Moore, Case No. 11-cv-00873 (D. Nev.). As for why GNLV can claim that the registration of this last domain name, which would be perceived by almost anybody as “77 Golden Nuggets” and not likely associated with GNLV’s GOLDEN NUGGET mark, constitutes cybersquatting? It would be because, according to the complaint, the domain name is linked to “a site offering a direct link to the Golden Nugget resort-hotel travel and reservation services, including a direct link to Plaintiff’s property located in Las Vegas, Nevada.” [ed.—might’ve been an easier case to defend had Defendant used the website in connection a gold mining business].

Of course, while I didn’t review the particular website printout exhibits attached to each complaint, a quick visit to each of the above domain names shows that they are your typical “landing page” offering various pay-per-click (“PPC”) generated ads (some of which may, as GNLV alleges, go to websites offering “the same wagering games offered by Plaintiff’s casino resorts” or to “resort-hotel travel and reservation services”). Are any of these particular websites truly causing economic harm to GNLV? Highly doubtful. So why is GNLV spending money filing lawsuits to go after domains that don’t really have much direct value for GNLV (and are certainly not diverting any business to GNLV’s own hotel/casino)? Perhaps simply because it can . . . and because it’s not as costly as you might think

When one considers that the minimum cost that a trademark owner would incur to file a domain name arbitration action under the UDRP is around $3000 (including fees paid for the arbitrator) and with an uncertain outcome (as anybody who has been involved in UDRP arbitrations will tell you), these lawsuits are a much much more cost effective way for a company to obtain possession of these domain names ($300 lawsuit filing fee, $100 bond, and maybe around $500-$1000 per case for attorneys fees and costs (assuming great economies of scale), since most of the documents are nearly identical and can be prepared mostly by administrative staff). In addition, unlike in a UDRP action, the lawsuit route allows the complainant to make a claim towards statutory damages for cybersquatting (minimum $1000 up to $100000 per domain name). Given the low likelihood that the Defendants will even respond to the complaints, each lawsuit has the strong potential to garner a $100,000 default judgment (albeit a judgment that is more often than not nearly impossible to collect).

Still, even at a price of about $1000 per domain name, one wonders why GNLV wants to invest even that amount of money for some of the domain names it is seeking. All GNLV is doing is preventing other third parties from obtaining a relatively minuscule amount of PPC revenue from the PPC ads showcased on the landing pages for each of these websites. As for the websites involving typosquatting, I continue to maintain that the vast majority of web users looking for GNLV’s GOLDEN NUGGET are saavy enough with respect to internet browsing that they will not be sidetracked by a landing page that offers links to an online casino or other hotel/casino – and will instead recognize their typo and retype the correct URL address or perform a search using one of the more popular internet search engines (which are certainly not fooled by these websites). When all is said and done, GNLV will be the proud owner of several domain names that will likely do very little in promoting the GOLDEN NUGGET brand and will generate very little additional traffic for GNLV's websites (along with very little additional revenue) beyond what GNLV would’ve already had, but which GNLV now will have to continue to pay annual registration fees in order to maintain these domain names. But I guess GNLV considers that fee (along with the fees paid to its lawyers for these sutis) a small price to pay to prevent domainers from making a single penny (literally) off of the GOLDEN NUGGET mark.

[UPDATE (July 26, 2011) -- Ron Coleman's Likelihood of Confusion® blog provides his response to my query here -- along with a shameless proposal to the people at the Golden Nugget to "handle their cost-effectiveness-be-damned domain trademark enforcement programs."]