Court orders owner of PETA parody site to relinquish address
By Sonja Barisic, Associated Press, 06/20/00
NORFOLK, Va. -- Animal-rights activists know the name PETA is an acronym for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. But in cyberspace, the letters briefly stood for People Eating Tasty Animals.
From September 1995 to January 1996, a Maryland Internet entrepreneur used the Web address www.peta.org as the home page of the fictitious group. The site described itself as "a resource for those who enjoy eating meat, wearing fur and leather, hunting and the fruits of scientific research (and more!)."
The animal-rights group wasn't laughing. They took Web site owner, Michael Doughney, to court and last week a federal judge ordered Doughney to relinquish the Web address to PETA and limit his use of domain names to those not "confusingly similar."
"He did a selfish and self-serving thing by trying to profit from the name of an organization that serves to help animals," Lisa Lange, spokeswoman for Norfolk-based PETA, said Tuesday.
PETA accused Doughney of trademark infringement and cybersquatting -- registering names of companies or groups in the hopes of selling them to their namesakes.
"Initially it was amusing," Lange said. "But then so many people who were looking for information on animal protection got frustrated that it was obviously not a good thing."
Doughney's attorney, G. Gervaise Davis, said he plans to appeal. He said Doughney was simply parodying PETA, which is protected speech under the First Amendment.
"It's not a cybersquatting case at all," Davis said. "It simply presents a question: Can you use a trademark as a domain name for the purpose of creating a parody?"
Doughney is co-founder of Digex, an Internet service provider. He said he now is retired.
Doughney declined to comment, except to say the PETA case is not "about someone who is against animal rights or against PETA" and said he has never registered a domain name with the intention of selling it.