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Recently, savvy political forecasters, political activists, and entrepreneurs looking to make a quick buck have started snatching up domain names likely to be used by 2020 presidential candidates. For example, an online book publisher recently registered Pelosi2020.com and HarryReid2020.com, while another computer programmer registered Biden2020.com and, perhaps more regrettably, Edwards2020.com.
Those registering these domains do so for different purposes. Most are likely looking at it as an investment, shelling out anywhere from $7 to $12 a year on GoDaddy.com or Sedo.com to get the rights to the domain name, hoping in several year they will be valued in the thousands of dollars to the candidate looking to make a presidential bid. Some are not very subtle about these intentions. Others, on the other hand, are looking to do their party a favor, reserving the names for use by the Democratic or Republican candidate whom they support. Still others have different political motivations, hoping to prevent the opposing party from obtaining the name, no matter the price they offer.
These scenarios create interesting legal implications. In 1999, Congress passed the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, with the aim of preventing individuals from, in bad faith, registering domain names that were confusingly similar to outstanding trademarks or personal names, with the hope of selling them back to the trademark owner at an inflated price. Importantly, these consumers never had the intention to use the site for an otherwise legitimate purpose.
Seemingly, holding political domain names hostage is precisely the goal of many of these registrants, bringing their actions under the Act. But the Act likely did not contemplate the impact of domain names registered for a political purpose, and the registration may be construed as a type of political speech, thereby protected under the First Amendment. Thus, it may be difficult to distinguish between an owner looking to sell the domain for a profit from an owner who making a political statement by preventing an opposing party from obtaining the domain. As a result, the First Amendment may create an insurmountable obstacle for a candidate looking to attain the rights to his or her domain name at a reasonable price.
So, if you are even remotely considering a 2024 bid for President of the United States, you may want to head over to GoDaddy.com and take care of preliminary campaign business.
– Sam Beutler
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