GoDaddy Can't Recuse Judge in 'Parked Pages' Suit

Feb 4, 2014 9:00 AM PST

LOS ANGELES — A federal judge on Monday hosed down GoDaddy's effort to have a federal judge disqualified from a cybersquatting suit worth potentially millions against the company.

U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer issued an oral ruling denying the hosting company's motion to disqualify U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' suit alleging it violated the federal Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act and California business codes.

Fischer in her ruling from the bench said there was no evidence that Collins is biased for the Academy because of a number of pre-trial rulings in favor of it and because her daughter is an actress who had small parts in "Deception," "The Producers" and other films.

GoDaddy, in its motion to recuse Collins, even alleged that multiple Academy officials privately refer to her as "the Academy's judge" and that most Academy cases have been funneled into her courtroom in recent years.

Fischer in her ruling Monday said GoDaddy's motion to recuse the judge was frivolous and potentially sanctionable.

The ruling is a major setback for GoDaddy, which is trying to stave off claims that it had infringed on and deliberately appropriated more than 100 of the Academy's marks with such domain names as OscarRedCarpet.com, OscarActor.com, AcademyAwards2015.com and BillyCrystal2012Oscars.com, according to an amended lawsuit filed last month.

The suit, filed at U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, seeks a restraining order over the practice of scooping up the Academy's trademarks and appropriating them through parked pages. It also seeks $100,000 in damages for every domain allegedly poached, as well as attorneys fees.

The Academy, in response to GoDaddy' s motion to toss Collins off the case, earlier called the registrar's request "meritless and insulting" and said the motion was "strategic."

"GoDaddy’s motion, which essentially alleges that nearly 20 judges in the [U.S. District Court in Los Angeles] were 'complicit' in transferring such cases to Judge Collins, is simply outrageous," the Academy said.

The suit narrowly focuses on how GoDaddy registers and monetizes parked domains through its Parked Page Service and Cash Parking Program.

GoDaddy parks registrants' pages and places advertisements on web pages with Parked Page Service; Go Daddy is granted the right to collect and retain all revenue generated by the advertising.

The Cash Parking Program service permits domain registrants to pay a fee to allow GoDaddy through its advertising partner to place ads on the registrant's web page. The revenue generated through that advertising is then split between the registrant, GoDaddy and GoDaddy's advertising partner.

Concurrent with Fischer's ruling Monday, the Academy's attorneys also filed an opposition to a GoDaddy motion to dismiss and motion to strike some domain names from the suit.

In the filing, the Academy emphasized that the suit could spur additional litigation against Scottsdale, Ariz.-based GoDaddy.

Additional litigation could include claims possibly waged by online adult companies that find their marks being similarly poached and exploited.

"The instant action, if successful, will certainly result in the enforcement of an important right affect the public interest," the Academy said in its motion. "GoDaddy purports to be the world’s leading ICANN-accredited domain name registrar for .com, .net, .org, .info, .biz and .us domain extensions,  with over 40 million domain names under its management — more names than any other registrar.

"Further, GoDaddy and its affiliates offer their services in interstate commerce, affecting people all over the U.S. In turn, GoDaddy is harming trademark holders nationwide by monetizing domains utilizing their marks.

"If plaintiff is successful, this action will establish enforceable trademark rights of trademark owners nationwide as it related to GoDaddy’s parked page programs."

GoDaddy officials did not respond to XBIZ for comment on Tuesday.

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