Gacebook.com: Judge Says You Can't Make Site With Name Similar to Facebook

If your dream is to start a website with the domain name "gacebook.com," too bad. Facebook isn't going to let you.

In a recent court case, a California judge ruled that domain names similar to Facebook.com must be turned over to Facebook. Facebook will also get almost $2.8 million in damages.

There were 105 domain names involved in that case, and they each paid out different amounts in damages, based on a number of factors including how closely the domain name matched Facebook.com and how they used the domain. Facebook wanted each domain to pay the maximum of $100,000, but as a result of the court's decision, some of the domains were charged as low as $5,000.

Still, $5,000 is a high sum to pay. And wasn't there something in the constitution about freedom of speech? The internet age may make the implications of the First Amendment more complicated, but those rights apply in cyber space as well as real space.

In some cases, courts have ruled that using domain names similar to existing companies — called cybersquatting or typosquatting — is protected by the First Amendment. A woman in Canton, Michigan, created a website with a domain name similar to a local nursery, and used the website to publish complaints about that company. The court ruled that since the woman was not acting in bad faith and did not try to make a profit, she did not violate any laws.

The law in question here — the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act — was meant to penalize people who create websites with domain names containing trademarks with no intention of actually operating a website. Instead, they only create the website in order to gain a profit by selling the domain name to the original trademarked company. 

If that is the case, then the domain name owners can not claim "freedom of speech" as a protection for creating the website. If there is no actual intention to engage in speech (creating website content) then there is no First Amendment protection. Since the woman in question was exercising her right to free speech by complaining about the nursery, she wasn't guilty of violating the law.

There are other loopholes as well. In one case, a person who created the domain name GIOCONDOLAW.com in order to research cyber security was not charged when the original company, Gioconda Law Group, sued.

So, if you want to make gacebook.com, you can. You just can't try to sell your website to Facebook.

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Susannah Griffee

Susannah Griffee is a junior at New York University majoring in journalism and politics. In the past she has interned for ABC News, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and NBC New York. She also enjoys running, painting, and creative writing. Follow her on Twitter at @SusannahGriffee.

MORE FROM

Uber drivers at JFK Airport are fighting for their right to pee

Bathroom options for Uber drivers are unsanitary, degrading and illegal. And there are even fewer options for women.

Researchers show Twitter is far faster than the police at predicting riots

Tweets can predict a riot up to an hour before police, but that may not be a good thing.

China is building an incredibly cool "forest city" that will combat pollution

Sustainability and air quality are just the beginning.

Inside the dangerous operation to smuggle free information into North Korea

They use balloons, drones and networks of smugglers — who risk torture to bring flash drives into the DPRK.

Scientists just spotted 2 black holes flirting and dancing like awkward middle schoolers

The two could someday merge to become one.

I can't stop laughing at this amazing iOS 11 glitch that basically turns your texts into Jaden Smith tweets

One iOS 11 bug — god, I hope this is a bug — stands above the rest, and I can't stop laughing.

Uber drivers at JFK Airport are fighting for their right to pee

Bathroom options for Uber drivers are unsanitary, degrading and illegal. And there are even fewer options for women.

Researchers show Twitter is far faster than the police at predicting riots

Tweets can predict a riot up to an hour before police, but that may not be a good thing.

China is building an incredibly cool "forest city" that will combat pollution

Sustainability and air quality are just the beginning.

Inside the dangerous operation to smuggle free information into North Korea

They use balloons, drones and networks of smugglers — who risk torture to bring flash drives into the DPRK.

Scientists just spotted 2 black holes flirting and dancing like awkward middle schoolers

The two could someday merge to become one.

I can't stop laughing at this amazing iOS 11 glitch that basically turns your texts into Jaden Smith tweets

One iOS 11 bug — god, I hope this is a bug — stands above the rest, and I can't stop laughing.