State House of Representatives Democratic challenger Rosemary Hubbard has accused GOP incumbent Rep. Jason Saine of cybersquatting website domains containing her name, in order to further his political campaign.
Almost two weeks ago, Hubbard began the process of establishing a website for her campaign. It was at that time that she discovered that the domain names containing her full name had already been purchased on March 1.
These included rosemaryhubbard.com, rosemaryhubbard.net, rosemaryhubbard.org, rosemaryhubbard.us and rosemaryhubbard.info. Not only had these websites been claimed, but they redirected the user to Saine’s campaign website.
“This really was a blow to me about not being able to have a website up where I’m using my name,” Hubbard said. “If they’re so interested in free enterprise, I don’t understand why they would do this…if they want everybody to have an equal fighting chance…they talk a lot about that in the Republican Party, but we’re not seeing it here.”
Using website tracking tools, the Times-News was able to find documentation that the five domain names had been purchased under Saine’s name through Go Daddy, an internet domain registrar and webhosting company. Under “Other Receipt Sources” on Saine’s campaign financial disclosure report, there is a documented payout of $62.04 to GoDaddy.com on March 3, two days after the purchase of those domains.
“So, it’s gone on for almost four months,” she said. “This happened March 1, and it’s already July…and I thought ‘My gosh! He must be having quite a laugh at my expense.’ So really, I’m just out there, 73 years old, going door to door…and he’s just at his computer screen. And if somebody types in my name, they get his campaign.”
Questioning the legality of Saine’s actions, Hubbard believes he could be violating the Anti-Cybersquatting Protection Act of 1999. According to The Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse (CADNA), this federal law is intended to give trademark and service mark owners legal remedies against defendants who obtain domain names “in bad faith” that are identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark, with the intent to profit from the mark. However, the Anti-Cybersquatting Protection Act is generally used to for business purposes rather than political.
While it is possible for companies, politicians, celebrities and others to sue to get hold of sites linked to their names, such challenges are not always successful. According to Go Daddy’s former general counsel and current Arizona gubernatorial candidate, Christine Jones, the best solution is to sign up for sites before someone else snatches them up.
“It is a fact that if you don’t register your name, there is a chance someone else will register it and maybe say something bad about you,” Jones said in a 2010 New York Times article.
Furthermore, a 2010 survey by CADNA found that less than 50 percent of United States senators and 40 percent of representatives owned what the report labeled their FullName.com domain names. Only 32 percent of senators and 22 percent of representatives owned their FullName.org names.
After learning of Hubbard’s accusations, Saine released a statement, citing the First Amendment in support of purchasing the web domains.
“The First Amendment gives citizens and political candidates great latitude to use the media, including the Internet, to provide voters with truthful information that helps them make an informed choice about who will best represent them,” Saine said. “Our campaign has not broken any law, and we are disappointed that my opponent is attempting to silence us in this very important debate. I believe that campaigns are about the issues. Our campaign will use all aspects of the media to spread our message of job creation, supporting our teachers and schools, as well as balancing the budget.”
Saine’s press statement also included comments from NC House Republican Caucus director Josh Thomas.
“Internet websites fall under the fair use exemption to the U.S. Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) because the public deserves the right to know what the candidate believes in and what their positions are or have been in the past,” Thomas said.
“This is pretty much the idea of ‘welcome to the wild west of the world wide web,” Catawba College Political Professor Dr. J. Michael Bizter said in an email. “Anyone with $10 can purchase a web domain, and this has become the new norm when it comes to candidates and their electronic strategies, and especially for opponents. This isn’t unheard of at all, but when folks are considering running a campaign, the first move — beyond fundraising and filing — is to secure the various web addresses that might be associated with a candidate.”
However, Bitzer feels that due to the popularity of search engines such as Google, candidates can still find alternative names for their websites and still lead successful campaigns.
“I’d think though, through the use of Google and searching for candidate’s names, the candidates could have other domain names that are variations of their names and still be useful for their campaign,” he said. “But ‘first bought, first use’ that domain registration allows, it’s smart for all candidates to buy and park the web address until they use it. It’s something that happens on a national, state, and now local scale, and it is all part of the campaign process that candidates have to consider when deciding to launch their campaign.”
According to North Carolina State Board of Elections Public Information Office Josh Lawson, a written complaint has not been filed regarding the purchase of websites in the NC House District 97 race.
“We did receive a phone call regarding the matter, but no written complaint has been filed with the State Board,” Lawson said.