In late October, an enterprising three-year-old named Vittoria Gomez launched her very own personal website–with some “help” from her mommy, of course.  On the website, Vittoria touted the virtues of free speech, and offered to sell a toy plane that she made to raise money for First Amendment causes.  If it wasn’t strange enough that a toddler started a free speech blog, Vittoria’s choice of URL was definitely bizarre: paulbogoni.org.  In one of “her” first posts, Vittoria claimed that her website was the first step in her “journey in making the world a better place.”

Yet the site’s purpose seemed to actually be to make the world a more miserable place for Paul Bogoni, a real estate investor with whom Vittoria’s mommy previously had a “social relationship.” Not only did the website squat on a URL bearing Paul’s namesake, it also advertised that the domain name was for sale–for a mere 1 million dollars.  Perhaps the baby blogger, inexperienced in the ways of the world, just didn’t realize that this was a textbook example of extortion.

Paul Bogoni did realize he was being extorted, though, and filed suit in a New York district court against Vittoria’s mommy, Vicdania Gomez, under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA).  § 1129(a) of ACPA provides that “[a]ny person who registers a domain name that consists of the name of another living person, or a name substantially and confusingly similar thereto, without that person’s consent, with the specific intent to profit from such name by selling the domain name for financial gain to that person or any third party, shall be liable in a civil action by such person.”  The exception, spelled out in § 1129(b), is where a person registers such a domain in good faith with the intention of lawfully selling products that bear a person’s name.

Gomez argued that the domain was not registered with the intent to profit, pointing to Vittoria’s promise on the website to “donat[e] all proceeds to organizations that aid in the protections of free speech.”  Gomez further contended that, even if the site violated § 1129(a), it should qualify under the § 1129(b) exception because Vittoria offered through the website to sell her toy plane, which bore the name “Bogoni.”  The district court smelled a rat, though, and rejected Gomez’s arguments, granting a preliminary injunction in favor of Bogoni.

Mommies, don’t try to use your toddlers as accessories in a cyber-extortion scheme.  As we have seen in the Bogoni case, even a three-year-old blogger won’t win the sympathy of a district court judge when it comes to cybersquatting.

– Jordan Teague

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