9th Circuit Hears Cybersquatting Case Against GoDaddy

Rhett Pardon

SAN FRANCISCO — An appeals court panel yesterday heard the novel claim of "contributory cybersquatting" brought against GoDaddy.com by a Malaysian national oil company after traffic to domain names that included the company's trademark was redirected to a porn site.

Petronas, formally known as Petroliam Nasional Berhad, appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a lower court granted summary judgment to the domain registrar, which was sued for monetary damages and attorney fees for cybersquatting, or at least a claim of contributory cybersquatting.

In its suit, Petronas said it complained to GoDaddy over two websites, PetronasTower.net and PetronasTowers.net, that were alleged to have cybersquatted on its name. But it was not until Petronas obtained two separate court orders that GoDaddy stopped forwarding traffic for those domains to CamFunChat.com.

The appeals court previously ruled in a 1999 case, Lockheed vs. Network Solutions, which decided that domain name registrars are immune from liability for cybersquatting.

But Petronas' counsel argued to the appellate panel that the case covers only domain name registration — not the forwarding service at issue where multiple domains are redirected to a single website. Registration is different from domain name forwarding, Petronas counsel Perry Clark told the panel.

But GoDaddy attorney John Slafsky said there's no distinction between the two and imposing liability would cause extreme disruption to current Internet systems and processes. With more than 200 million domain names, registrars can't police every trademark dispute, GoDaddy states.

Slafsky also argued to the panel that the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act of 1999 doesn't say anything about contributory infringement,

"No appellate court has ever recognized such a claim," he said. "To the extent such a claim exists, and we don't know that it does, there is no basis in this record for such a claim."

GoDaddy's position all along is that Petronas should direct its complaints for damages to the operator of CamFunChat.

With more than 200 million domain names in the world, registrars like GoDaddy can't police every trademark dispute, the company says.

The 9th Circuit panel said they would take both sides' arguments under submission.

An audio recording of yesterday's hearing at the 9th Circuit is available here.