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Registering a Domain name for a future Professional Sports Team.

Phoenix, AZ |

If I were to register a domain that is the same of a future sports team name and city would I legally be able to keep it under trade mark law. For example, if I were to own before the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and before that franchise was trademarked. Obviously I would not be legally allowed to use Logos or Trademarked icons, but what about say a fan blog or something of that nature. Would they have any legal ground to cease my domain?

Attorney Answers 4

  1. So the way I interpret your question is whether it's possible to "game" the system to preempt the possible rights of a sports team which is likely to move to a different city.

    The answer is "maybe," provided you could establish that you'd adopted the domain name in "good faith" and continue to use it that way.

    For the legal considerations, look up - the UDRP domain name arbitration rules and the federal Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.

    If you do have legitimate business grounds for adopting and using such a domain name, it would be good practice to consult confidentially with an attorney experienced in this aspect of the law, to help you evaluate both the risks and likely costs associated with this course of action.

    This posting is intended for general education and isn't "legal advice." It doesn't create or evidence an attorney-client relationship. You are encouraged to engage an attorney in the pertinent jurisdiction for confidential legal advice on matters of any importance. -Gerry J. Elman, J.D. Elman Technology Law, P.C. Swarthmore, PA

  2. There is one situation where doing so would be unquestionably lawful. If a person registered, say, before the Sacramento Kings pro basketball team moved to that city AND the person began using that domain for a website having nothing to do with basketball then I know of no legal reason why that person could not continue to own and use even after the Kings basketball team moved to Seattle.

    But you want to do something different. You want to anticipate where a sports team will move, register that and then, when the team moves, publish a website at that domain about that sports team. Under those facts, the sports team will very likely prevail in a federal anticybersquatting act case [though probably not in a UDRP proceeding] and potentially also in a plain-vanilla trademark infringement action. The reason? Your "use" of the what has become the sports team trademark would be in bad faith and may cause a likelihood of confusion among the fans of the team.

    Speak with your own trademark attorney, of course, but if your plan is as I've described it would very likely be unlawful.

    The above is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to your inquiry.

  3. Well, the hypothetical is a pipe dream because if you had a registration for before the Browns moved to Baltimore, the team would be named the Ravens. The NFL would have picked another name when they did a search or they would buy the name from you before there was any announcement of the name. So, when you would hypothetically have been approached, it would have simply been by some innocent seeming fellow wanting to buy the name, you would not know the real reason why, and you would have sold out for what you would have thought was a great price only to find out you had their website and could have perhaps gotten ten times as much. These guys are pros not fools, they would solve any website issue long before locking onto a name. So, you would not be able to use site for a blog since you would not, hypothetically speaking, have still owned it by the time the announcement of the name was made.

    Now, I suppose your hypothetical gets as far fetched as that you still owned the name website and the NFL trademark clearance professions are idiots and amateurs and did not do a clearance. First, there would be some trademark clearance professionals looking for new jobs, and then you would be offered a price that would make you sell (a carrot) and told you are going to be sued to kingdom come if you refuse (the stick). Would you spend, oh say $500,000 to keep the website name for you blog or would you sell out for, oh say $250,000 and figure out another name for your blog? You know darn well you would sell. In fact, the deal would be silently made with no one else knowing and with you likely given permission for some very close name, say or such, and $100,000 and maybe free season tickets for 5 years, or who knows what else they might offer that would entice you. Everyone has their hot buttons and the pros at NFL licensing would quickly find them and use them.

    So, bottom line, it just couldn't happen your way because the NFL is not sloppy enough to let it happen.

    I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.

  4. I pretty much agree with Ballard, although I think it is not so much bad faith that governs as intent to jack up the team for money to buy the URL. OK, subtle difference. Also, Ballard is a little biased because he is from Sacramento, which is losing the Kings to SEA.

    I lived in Baltimore when the Colts left town for Indianapolis. I can tell you the pain is unbearable, especially when the move is not anticipated. It's decades, but I still recall the news movies of Allied Van Lines trucks at 5 in the am moving slowly through the falling rain, carrying away the plundered team.

    Licensed in Maryland with offices in Maryland and Oregon. Information here is general, does not create a lawyer-client relationship, and is not a substitute for consulting with an experienced attorney on the specifics of your situation.