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Letter to My Senators

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One of the best things about living in this country is that we have the ability to appeal to our elected officials in the hopes of having a proposed bill revised before it is written into law. The proposed Snowe Bill (S. 2661) has the potential to severely damage web-based small businesses (and any company that owns a website/domain name), and I am not going to stand idly. The Internet Commerce Association has information on contacting your local elected officials to express your concern about the bill, and I strongly recommend you do so if the bill will impact you. In addition to financially supporting the ICA, I have also emailed my senators, and I am going to send a letter via USPS as well.
Below is a copy of the letter I sent to my senator in New Hampshire, US Senator John E. Sununu. I fondly remember being introduced to his father (former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu), who was very concerned about small business growth in the state of New Hampshire.   Like his father, Senator Sununu is also a proponent of small businesses in New Hampshire, and I hope the Senator will read up on my concerns and take action to alleviate them. This bill will impact anyone who owns a domain name or website if a larger company wants to take it from them. We need to make sure the bill does not pass in its current form.
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Dear Senator Sununu,
I was born and raised in Nashua, New Hampshire, but currently reside in New York City.   In 2006, I created a small business buying, developing and selling domain names, and my company (Top Notch Domains, LLC) is currently registered and located in New Hampshire. I do all of my banking in New Hampshire, and I hope to move back to the Nashua area once my fiancee finishes her graduate degree in New York.   In November 2007, I was able to leave my job at American International Group (AIG) as a Senior Marketing Manager, to focus completely on my domain development and investment business.   I am really living the American Dream.
Aside from always voting in local and national elections, I am relatively uninvolved in politics.   However, I am writing to you today because a bill was recently proposed that in all likelihood will have dire consequences on the domain investment industry and my business, if it passes with the current language.   Senator Snowe recently introduced a bill called the Anti-Phishing Consumer Protection Act (S. 2661) .   While the name of the bill certainly sounds consumer friendly, the law itself opens the gateway for large corporations and/or various government agencies to seize control of domain names currently owned by small business owners like myself, which have absolutely nothing to do with phishing or other deceptive or fraudulent practices.
The two major targets of the bill, phishing and cybersquatting, are both already illegal in the US or against ICANN/WIPO policy.   Over 85% of WIPO cases are won by the complainant, and 99% of all Lanham Act cases are won by the plaintiff, evidence that the systems in place are working. Additionally, most people who are committing these fraudulent acts live in Europe, Asia, and Africa, beyond the reach of the US justice system. I am very much in favor of eliminating phishing and cybersquatting, but I don’t think this bill will have any impact on these illegal practices.
The main concern I have is that the proposed S. 2661 bill would also make it unlawful for any person to use a domain name in connection with the display of a webpage or an advertisement on a webpage, if the domain name is identical or confusingly similar to the name or brand name of a government office, nonprofit organization, business or other entity.   As the owner of the domain names Lowell.com and Salinas.com (among other generic domain names), I am very concerned that this could present the opportunity for potential litigation against these city domain names, even though owning them now is perfectly legal.
On my websites, I make it very clear that each is completely unconnected to the city government to ensure that consumers are aware that my websites are commercial ventures.   My websites are informational guides to the cities, and I am very concerned that both of these cities could conceivably try to seize them, even though both city governments own their respective .gov extension. The language in this bill could put all my hard work and business plans in jeopardy.   I have spent a considerable amount of time and money purchasing and developing these domain names into sustainable businesses, and I believe the language of the bill will enable others to put me out of business as the risk of owning these domain names would be too great.
Senator Sununu, I am asking you not to cosponsor S. 2661 or to vote in favor of it in its current form.   I am asking that you oppose this legislation until its redundant, unbalanced, and unnecessary trademark-like provisions have been removed.   The Internet Commerce Association, has put out a well-written paper on how this bill will impact my entire industry, and they are willing to work with you and Senator Snowe to revisit the language.   I would sincerely appreciate your review of the ICA website and your efforts to improve the language of the pending Snowe bill.   If the bill passes as is, I am afraid that I will lose my business.   Please help.
ICA Position Paper:   http://www.internetcommerce.org/Snowe_Bill_Threatens_Domain_Name_Registrants
Best Regards,
Elliot J. Silver
Top Notch Domains, LLC

Report: Snowe Bill "Trademark Legislation on Steroids"

From ComputerWorld:

An antiphishing bill that was introduced in the U.S. Senate last week could end up being used by large holders of trademarks to unfairly wrest legitimate domain names away from small businesses and individuals, according to a trade group that represents domain name investors and so-called direct search companies.

Check out ComputerWorld for the entire article.

I have spent thousands of dollars developing my domain names in addition to the cost of acquiring these names, and this bill has the potential to make it easy for companies to take them from me without much trouble. I have been careful acquiring domain names that do not infringe on the marks of other companies, but in the end, I could get burned because of this legislation.   It simply isn’t fair to small-time entrepreneurs like myself.
From what I can tell, the Internet Commerce Association is our best chance at getting the bill changed. They have a great staff working to protect the rights of people in the domain industry, and we need to support them. Please consider becoming a member of the ICA or making a (tax deductible) contribution. Now is the time we need to step up and organize.

ICA Auction: Get Your Bids In

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There are just under 24 hours to go in my auction for PuertoRicanVacation.com, which currently has a high bid of $300. All funds from this auction will go to the ICA to help protect the rights of domain investors. The auction is being held on Nameade, a new domain auction website. They are giving the ICA $1,000 on top of the high bid price for the domain name. This will be a win/win for all.
The auction ends on Wednesday, March 5th at 3pm.

Nameade to Host ICA Auction; Make Donation to ICA

Nameade, a new domain auction venue, is now hosting my auction for PuertoRicanVacation.com. Originally, I listed this charity auction on my blog, and Nameade offered to host it to increase awareness and raise more money to support the ICA. The payment and transfer of the domain name will still be done through me to make things easier.
Nameade is a new site that launched last week. They provide a full service staff that contacts domain owners who are not in or familiar with the domain industry and finds individuals or companies willing to sell their domains. The entire inventory of names secured is then auctioned every two weeks to the domain community.
The idea is to move away from domainer-to-domainer or expired domain auctions and introduce new names into the space which otherwise would not be available.
Nameade will make a $1,000 donation to the ICA in addition to providing the venue for this auction.

Digg This! Don't Let Them Take Your Domain Names!

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Please read the following ICA article and then Digg it!
http://digg.com/politics/Snowe_Bill_Threatens_Domain_Name_Registrants
And if you can, please support the ICA.
The beauty of living in the United States is that we can support an organization that will help make sure our collective voice is heard. The ICA will continue to lobby on our behalf to help change the bill to protect our domain assets. If this bill is passed as is, our domain names could be vulnerable like never before. I don’t understand the logic of not supporting them. I don’t see anyone else stepping up to the plate to lobby and get this bill changed.
I’ve said it before and I will reiterate it again. The Anti-Phishing Act is a consumer (voter) friendly bill that no elected official is going to vote against. We need it changed before it is passed because it contains language that will be detrimental to this business. You might not get sued by someone, but you better believe that if a domain owner does get sued and loses his generic domain name, ALL domain names will lose significant value since they will become much more risky assets. Currently, generic domain names are fairly safe from trademark violations, and consequently they are valued greatly. However, if this bill is passed as is, they may no longer be safe, and their value will drop.
I don’t see anyone else stepping up to represent us other than the ICA. Whether you are big time or small time, if you own domain names, I think you need to support the ICA’s efforts to change this bill before it is passed.   I urge you to read the legislation and then please support the ICA.

Email to My Domain Partners

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I am in the process of reaching out to the companies with whom I do the most business. I am thinking about only doing business with companies who are members of the Internet Commerce Association. Is this a drastic measure? Perhaps, but if we don’t stand up for our rights, do you think anyone else will?
This is the email I am sending to my partners:
“Is xxxxxx a member of the Internet Commerce Association? The recent Anti Phishing Act proposal has some scary language for domain investors, and I think the ICA is our best chance at making sure it isn’t passed as is. I am toying with only doing business with members of the ICA. Please let me know if xxxxxxxx is a member of the ICA, and if not, when they might become a member.
Thanks,
Elliot”

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