The Glenn Beck story: the tail end

November 12, 2009

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the Glenn Beck story, where an internet prankster satirised ultra-conservative US pundit Glenn Beck (a kind of super-Bolt). The prankster, Isaac Eiland-Hall, registered a website, which called on Beck to prove that he did not sexually assault and murder a young girl in 1990. The site was a satire on Beck’s own propensity to make outrageous and risible claims and demand his guests to refute them.

The case blew up when Glenn Beck’s lawyers tried to get the World Intellectual Property Organization to turn the site’s domain over to Beck on the basis that it breached his trade mark (i.e., his name). Needless to say, this turned the website into an internet phenomenon, with several other sites springing up, and loads of Twitter chatter.

The story is now drawing to a close, as reported on Ars Technica (and elsewhere):

While agreeing that the site included Beck’s trademark, the arbiter noted that “even a ‘moron in a hurry’ would not likely conclude that Complainant sponsored, endorsed, or was affiliated with the website addressed by the disputed domain name.”

But the bigger question was whether Beck’s trademark was being used in a legitimate way, or whether it had been registered in bad faith. (The decision cites, as an example of bad faith, a case in which an auto parts company targeted its competition with a [competitor]sucks.com website that sent traffic to the first company.)

“Respondent appears to the Panel to be engaged in a parody of the style or methodology that Respondent appears genuinely to believe is employed by Complainant in the provision of political commentary,” says the decision, “and for that reason Respondent can be said to be making a political statement. This constitutes a legitimate noncommercial use of Complainant’s mark.”

While WIPO refused to turn over the domain name to Beck, the arbiter did note that he was taking no position on whether the domain name or the site contents might be “defamation.” That decision can only be made by a US court, though Beck’s lawyers have not so far sought to push the question.

After winning the WIPO dispute, Eiland-Hall decided to poke the beehive one last time. He issued a public letter (PDF) to Glenn Beck which opens by noting that “I have prevailed in the WIPO action that you filed against me. I write now to voluntarily relinquish the disputed domain to you, even though you did not win the case.”

This draws pretty much to a close the Glenn Beck tale. As I noted, it is an (extreme) example of conservative pundits being called out for their despicable tactics. I wonder how much the Beck saga will influence future actions and campaigns.

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