SBJ/September 30 - October 6, 2002/E Sports
Alternate addresses lead to SportsLine
Published September 30, 2002
Type www.yahoo.sports.com into your Internet browser and you'll end up at European sports gambling site www.sports.com. The URL www.espn.sportsline.com pushes you to ESPN's Web rival, CBS SportsLine.com.
Mistyped addresses are also
directed to sports.com, once owned
by SportsLine and now operated
by a European sports book.
That's because some companies have instructed their servers to direct partially mistyped names to their own sites. (Yahoo! Sports is actually at http://sports.yahoo.com, while ESPN.com resides at www.msn.espn.go.com.)
Is this a smart way to boost Web traffic? Or is it trademark infringement?
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is responsible for U.S. domain name system management, notes that sports.com and sportsline.com are domain names, while an address such as www.espn.sports.com is "sort of" a domain name.
"It's like the extension at the end of a phone number," said Dan Halloran, chief registrar liaison at ICANN.
There's been no big increase in traffic over the years from confused Web users, according to traffic-measurement firm comScore Media Metrix, but even slightly increased traffic numbers can mean higher ad rates, and thus more revenue, in the wired world. And there's no way to measure those who thought they were going to espn.com, found sports.com and never bothered to look for espn.com again.
NBC Sports is assessing how to respond to the fact that www.nbc.sportsline.com sends users to a CBS-affiliated site, CBS SportsLine.com.
"How would [CBS owner] Viacom feel if we took one of their marks in that way?" said Kevin Sullivan, a spokesman for NBC Sports.
Alex Riethmiller, a spokesman for SportsLine.com, said the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. company isn't out to grab competitors' visitors.
"If they're tired and type in 'qqq.sports-line.com' because it's next to the letter W, we don't want them going to a search engine," he said. "If you type in that much [sportsline.com], we're pretty sure you want to end up with us."
Until 1999, Web addresses such as www.fox.sports.com and www.espn.sports.com guided fans to CBS SportsLine.com. They were switched over to the sports.com site when SportsLine.com launched that venue.
The sports.com domain name was owned by SportsLine.com until it was sold to an undisclosed third party this summer. According to alldomains.com, the owner now is Achieve Investments, a Gibraltar company.
Sportingbet, a global sports book based in the United Kingdom, secured the rights to operate the site from Achieve Investments in July. Mark Blandford, executive vice chairman of Sportingbet, said he hadn't known that various domain names ended up at sports.com.
To show trademark infringement, plaintiffs in a legal case would have to prove Section 1125(d) of Title 15 in the United States Code. According to the section: "A person shall be liable in a civil action by the owner of a mark ... [if that person] has a bad-faith intent to profit from that mark ... registers, traffics in, or uses a domain name that ... in the case of a famous mark ... is identical or confusingly similar to or dilutive of that mark."
Michael Overly, a partner at Foley & Lardner in Los Angeles who specializes in Internet law, said that as long as companies direct all variations of Web addresses their way and don't target or publicize specific ones, they should be in the clear.
A Yahoo! spokesperson — who once typed www.yahoo.sports.com to learn more about the company before working there, and arrived instead at sports.com — noted the domain-name issue is under discussion.
At Sports Illustrated, "Anyone using our name without our permission is infringing upon our trademark," said spokeswoman Sheryl Spain.