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.