WASHINGTON – Congressional candidate Robin Ficker has sued the owner of robinficker.com, a campaign Web site that posts news articles critical of the long-time candidate and attorney.
The intellectual property lawsuit, filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, is directed at John Tuohy, a paid political consultant in the campaign of Chuck Floyd. Floyd is competing against Ficker in the 8th District Republican primary.
Floyd has repeatedly denied that he knew about the Tuohy’s ownership of robinficker.com, which at one point directed Web surfers to Floyd’s own campaign site.
Tuohy, who admitted that he owns the domain name, said Friday that he got the idea from other Web sites that criticize politicians.
“The Democrats have one on George Bush. This is simply a parody,” Tuohy said.
Ficker’s suit cites the Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, which protects against unauthorized registration of trademarks — and individual names — as domain names.
Experts said Ficker has a good chance of winning.
The fact that Ficker and Tuohy know each other increases Ficker’s chances of winning the case, said James Chandler, president of the National Intellectual Property Law Institute.
“Under the law, if you do something intentionally, the penalties are more severe,” Chandler said.
If he wins, Ficker can either have the domain name cancelled or transferred, said Jennifer Granick, executive director of the Center for Internet and Society. She said Ficker could also receive money if he shows that he suffered damages.
Tuohy defended the Web site by saying that everything on the Web site is true. But Granick said that does not matter, since the case is not about wrong information but about confusing people.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not, or whether it’s opinion or not, because it’s not a question of the content of the speech,” she said. “It’s a question of whether people are confused about . . . the domain name, and if it is being used in bad faith.”
Ficker said sites like robinficker.com are hurtful to the democratic process, because they misinform the “average voter, who is trying to make an informed intelligent decision as to who their representative of Congress should be.”
Both Chandler and Granick believe that the fact that Ficker is currently running for office can make it harder for Tuohy to defend himself in the suit.
“Because this involves an election . . . it makes it more egregious than in ordinary business competition,” Chandler said. “The natural and ordinary assumption of the public is that you would own your own site.”
Chandler, who is also a professor emeritus of law at George Washington University, said that if Ficker does not win, then Congress should be petitioned to change the law so that it protects political candidates from this sort of activity.
“I think it’s that offensive,” Chandler said.
Ficker said the judge has scheduled a teleconference hearing of his case for Tuesday.
-30- CNS 02-20-04