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Act 2: Taubman Demands My Domain

On May 17, 2001 (at which point my "fan" website had probably been in existence for nearly two years), I was sent a letter from Julie Greenberg of Gifford, Krass, Groh, Sprinkle, Anderson & Citkowski, a law firm representing the Taubman Company. Here's the text of the letter.

(Note: I retrieved the text of this letter – and that of many of the other materials that appear on this website – via OCR software. I reviewed the OCR scan for accuracy to the best of my ability. However, as with all OCR software and manual review, there's a chance that something got screwed up. If you spot any errors in spelling and/or grammar in this document or in any of the other documents that I've reproduced on this site, there's a good chance that the error is mine, and that the person who created the original document is blameless.)

Dear Sir/Madam:

We represent The Taubman Company in intellectual property matters. Our client owns and uses the trademark THE SHOPS AT WILLOW BEND, in connection with its shopping malls and related services. The trademark is the subject of U.S. Trademark Registration No. 2,400,909, for mark THE SHOPS AT WILLOW BEND. Our attention has been directed to a website maintained by you, www.shopsatwillowbend.com, incorporating our client's mark in the domain name, and featuring photographs and various information relating to the mall on the website.

You are hereby advised that this use of our client's registered mark creates a likelihood of confusion as to a relationship with our client, in violation of federal and state trademark and unfair competition law, as well as a violation of the federal Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.

In order to avoid legal action, we hereby demand that you immediately discontinue all use of the above-referenced domain name and related website, and arrange for transfer of the domain name registration to our client. In the event legal action is commenced, we will seek all available remedies, including injunctive relief, increased damages in view of the willful nature of the infringement, and attorneys fees.

Please contact us immediately to indicate your intentions.

Very truly yours,
Julie A. Greenberg

View the Original Letter (in a separate window)

I was surprised by this letter for several reasons. For one thing, my website was actively helping the mall and its merchants by giving them increased Internet exposure. Also, my website was directing traffic to Taubman's website. These can hardly be described as harmful actions. Also, my high-level, non-legal, layman's understanding of trademark law was that its purpose is to prevent one party from profiting by causing confusion with the goods or services of another party – and I was clearly not trying to profit in any way whatsoever.

And I've never understood why so many lawyers seem to feel that their first contact has to include a threat. Why did Ms. Greenberg feel obligated to let me know how badly I was going to suffer if I didn't give her what she wanted? If she felt that threatening me was going to motivate me to comply with her demand, she should know that it had the exact opposite effect – and I suspect that my reaction is fairly typical.

Next: I Ask Taubman for Details

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©2001 Hank Mishkoff
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