Mirror article, domain name dispute


The Front: February 1, 2001

 

Epitome hits the fan

Degrassi devotee fights to hold on to his Web domains

by NAOMI BLOCH

Last fall, Web-porn entrepeneur Dan Parisi lost the right to
publish his triple-X skin site at http://www.madonna.com after an international
arbitration panel ruled that Parisi had profited unfairly on the back of
illustrious ray of light Madonna. The case was certainly not the only
celebrity cyber-dispute; Julia Roberts and Isabelle Adjani have won
similar claims, while the unhappy Buddhist Sting lost his claim for
http://www.sting.com.

Now, north of the 49th parallel, a Canadian-scale
controversy is brewing, pitting the producers of the teen angst Degrassi
TV shows against some hardcore Degrassi fans.

When Mark Polger
first launched his Degrassi fan site back in 1997, Degrassi had been off
the air for five years, and nobody seemed to care that he had registered
degrassi.ca, degrassi.org and a number of other Degrassi-related domain
names for personal use. However, with last summer’s announcement of an
upcoming TV movie and possible series, Degrassi: The Next Generation,
slated to air on CTV this fall, rumours about the launch of an official
Web site followed closely behind.

Domain claims

“In
February, 2000, I got a phone call from Epitome Pictures and I was
completely floored,” recalls the 26-year-old graduate student. “They said
that they were thinking of making an official site. I thought at first
that maybe I would make an official site for them, and that I wouldn’t be
unofficial anymore.” Polger’s amateur-looking and non-commercial Web site
includes elements like episode guides, press clippings and a message board
that, according to Polger, is accessed by thousands of fans from as far
away as Australia and Israel. But Epitome Pictures didn’t want his site,
they wanted his domain names.

Polger says that he refused the
production company’s requests, but they would not give up. “The phone
calls persisted, and it started to feel like harrassment.” Finally, last
June, Polger agreed to meet with producers Linda Schuyler and Stephen
Stohn. “They asked to meet me so they could thank me for my efforts. So I
thought, okay, maybe it’s going to be positive,” he recounts. Instead,
says Polger, who had proudly dressed to the nines for the occasion, he was
asked to sign a confidentiality agreement about everything discussed, and
was again asked to hand over his Degrassi domains, with an offer to
transfer his Web sites to another, non-Degrassi domain name. Polger again
turned them down.

Producer Linda Schuyler does not readily admit
that their interest in the domain names ties directly into future
production plans. “It’s basically protection of our trademarks,” says
Schuyler. “We would like our domain names, our degrassi.ca domain and
degrassi.org.” Epitome Pictures already controls several domains,
including http://www.degrassijuniorhigh.net,

http://www.degrassijuniorhigh.org
as well as http://www.degrassihigh.com. Unfortunately for them, only “Degrassi
High” and “Degrassi Junior High” are actually trademarked, originally
registered by Schuyler’s and then-partner Kit Hood’s Playing With Time
Inc. The word “Degrassi” is not registered.

Day in court?

The initially informal communications with Polger turned to legal
discussions after the June meeting, when Epitome’s lawyers began written
communications with Polger’s pro bono legal advisor, a cousin in San
Diego. Recently, Polger turned to the press in anger, after receiving a
16-page draft Statement of Claim which charges him with trademark
infringement and using the Degrassi domain names in bad faith, passing off
his wares, services and Web sites as those of [Playing With Time].” Says
Polger: “It’s quite intimidating when, as a student, I am threatened with
a lawsuit from this big production company.”

If the parties do not
manage to settle, Polger’s cousin cannot represent him in a Canadian
court. But Schuyler insists that they do not want the dispute to go to
court. “Certainly, our spirit is to want to find an amicable solution,”
says Schuyler. However, Epitome Pictures has so far made no efforts to use
the basically lawyer-free dispute resolution services in place for
.com/.org/.net domains–such as those used by Madonna, Julia Roberts and
Sting–managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
Nor have they turned to the newly created Canadian Internet Registration
Authority for guidance in their degrassi.ca dispute. And, admits Schuyler,
“Obviously, if we can’t come to an amicable agreement, then there will be
a Statement of Claim filed [in the Federal Court]. There’s no question.”

“I’ve built a very large fan community and they will take that
away from me,” Polger declares.

“The domain is highly indexed with
all the search engines and it’s very popular. It’s as if you’ve published
many articles as a scholar, and your name is associated with a lot of
intellectual creative work, and then your name gets taken away from you.”

 


 

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