Before you tell me that I didn't capitalize the P in my post title, let me explain that most domain name registrars don't recognize capital letters. But I do know how to correctly type out WordPress.
Apple was getting ready to announce the first iPhone…
I remember the months before the early January 2007 announcement. They were filled with speculation that it would not be named an iPhone because Cisco already had the trademark for iPhone (via a Linksys acquisition).
The rumors, which turned out to be true, were that Steve Jobs had tried to talk with Cisco execs for months, letting them know he wanted the iPhone name. But Cisco didn't budge.
So Jobs got on stage and announced the name – knowing that a) he didn't think people would confuse his product with that Linksys product and b) that he could negotiate some form of an agreement later.
The reality is that by February of that year, they had settled out of court. And on top of that, Apple ended up licensing the term “iOS” from Cisco as well.
You know what those two companies had in common?
Large bank accounts.
While Steve Jobs was on stage, making his announcement, he showed off the ability to check stocks from the iPhone. He looked up Apple's stock and noticed it had already jumped up $2.50 – and ended the day even higher.
He had the money for the lawyers that he might need to deal with Cisco if it became an issue.
I was getting ready for a developer summit…
Several years ago, I was getting ready for a developer summit. We would be coordinating something like sixty developers across the country and in two or three other countries to spend 24 hours writing code and creating projects of their own choosing.
It was part of a larger event where we'd do some deep dives into technology. But this part – the 24 hours of coding – was it's own internal hack-a-thon.
I thought, since it was 24 hours long, that we should call it a Fedex Challenge. So I went to GoDaddy, where I buy my domains, and I purchased fedexchallenge.com.
Within 3 hours I received an email letter from FedEx. Actually it was from their legal department telling me that I could, in no way, put FedEx in a domain name.
I knew I wasn't going to be confusing any developers in our company that we were doing anything related to shipping. But I also knew something far more important.
We didn't have a budget in our legal department to match FedEx.
And I knew something else. It wasn't important. There was a simple way around it.
So I registered EmphasysDevDays.com instead – or something like it. And we moved on.
I even went back to GoDaddy and deleted the name I'd just registered, because I didn't want to be associated with it.
I was just opening up twitter for the day…
Mondays are normally my long day of calls. So in late December of last year I didn't get to Twitter until about 10:30 that morning.
I like getting on twitter early in the morning because I can see what's been going on around the rest of the world where people have been awake while I slept.
Soon after I flipped open a browser window (I don't use a Twitter application on my computer because it would be open all the time and then I couldn't get any work done). Within minutes I received a tweet that came out of the blue.
— CMS Website Helpers (@WPHelpers) December 29, 2014
Someone named Jeff was introducing himself to me – via a URL. Not the first or only time that someone has done that. But several things about it were odd.
First, and I checked right away, he had only ever authored 3 tweets before this one. So it wasn't like he was someone I was supposed to know but didn't. That happens a lot. The WordPress community is huge and sometimes I'm the last to find out about an awesome site or part of the community.
Second, the introduction took me to a page where, not a shock, he wanted my email.
I've reached out to introduce myself and The WordPress Helpers, and hopefully to begin a contact and relationship between us that proves beneficial to us both…because in the very near future I believe you're going to start hearing about us from “the outside”…I'd appreciate your approval to let me put a working e-mail address for you on file so we can keep in touch.
I get put on a lot of email lists (without my approval). So I appreciated that at least this was a question. But when people I don't know, who have little online history, suggest there's something that will be mutually beneficial, it normally is only beneficial to them.
So I was hesitant.
But I noticed that he had a url in the note – which took me here. And that's what triggered my third observation that was odd.
He was using the word “WordPress” in his domain while also promising to revolutionize everything about how people learn and use WordPress.
Normally, people who want to do something – even non-revolutionary – with WordPress spend a little time learning about it before they act.
I've mentioned this before but Nacin, a lead developer, spent almost a year looking over trac (where tickets and issues related to the code are stored). Personally I spent about a year looking at the community, the players, the commercial companies and more before I submitted a proposal to speak at a WordCamp.
I've talked to countless others who've done similar things. What I didn't understand was whether Jeff was making an innocent mistake or blatantly making a choice to disregard the WordPress foundation.
I don't work for the Foundation and am not a lawyer
Even though I don't work for the WordPress foundation and I'm not a lawyer, I've learned a lot about trademarks, copyrights, patents and other legal issues around software. But in this case, it was easy.
I simply replied to Jeff to let him know that he might have some issues with his domain name.
I was not the only one.
@WPHelpers Hey – make sure to remove "WordPress" from your domain name.
— Chris Lema (@chrislema) December 29, 2014
— BobWP (@bobWP) December 29, 2014
What we were all referencing – because it stood out so clearly – was the issue of WordPress in the domain. And the Foundation has some clearly articulated messages about it posted online.
But the messages we got were two-fold from Jeff:
- Don't worry – I got this.
- Why are you all attacking me?!!!?
Of course, what he felt as an attack was simply an attempt by some of the nicest people in the community (Do you know BobWP? I mean, seriously!) to help him stay clear of any issues.
Things got more interesting after that….
Soon after all the drama on twitter in late 2014, 2015 started with a bang.
Jeff and his team were asking the community, and others, to help them raise funds for their revolutionary concept – which none of us clearly understood.
His campaign requested $64,000 to help him revolutionize WordPress. And he offered, for some pretty spectacular pricing, ad space on the site (with the bad domain name).
While the campaign has 3 donors, only one claimed the prize. So yeah, he didn't raise the money.
Which may explain why some of the posts published after that were a bit thin and attacked some of the nicest folks in the community (read: BobWP).
Now he's being sued by the Foundation…
Maybe you were like, wait, what's the reason we shouldn't put “wordpress” in a domain name? Well, with all that background in place, let me tell you what happened this week.
If you read the suit, you can make your own judgement about whether he has a case or not. Whether the foundation has a case or not.
You can debate the merits of trademark and protection and infringement.
But that's not what's most interesting to me. That's not why you shouldn't put “wordpress” in your domain.
Nope, here's the reason why I strongly suggest you don't make this mistake.
Because the judgement on this case comes from a judge. And you can't control that. But you know what you can control?
Read this line:
As a result of Defendants' actions, WPF is entitled to immediate transfer of any domain names incorporating the WordPress Trademarks, including the Infringing Domain Names, in accordance with 15 U.S.C. § 1125(D)(1)(c); and an award of statutory damages of between $1,000 and $100,000 per each of the Infringing Domain Names pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1117(d).
That tells you the potential cost if you lose.
But wait. It gets more fun.
WPF is entitled to injunctive relief prohibiting Defendants from using the WordPress Trademarks, or any marks confusingly similar thereto, in accordance with 15 U.S.C. § 1116, and to recover all damages, including attorneys' fees, that Plaintiff has sustained and will sustain, and all gains, profits, and advantages obtained by Defendants as a result of their infringing acts alleged above in an amount not yet known, as well as the costs of this action, pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1117(a).
That emphasis is my own.
But that is why you should buy domains with “wp” instead.
Because your wallet may have money but it's unlikely that it has “lawyer fees” money. Right?
Can you imagine what lawyers charge just to create this 12 page document? It's not cheap. And if you lose, you pay for the Foundations lawyers and money for each domain name that the judge determines is an infringement.
Let me ask you a question
Few things are as crazy as blatantly walking into a fight knowing that you're doing it, when you don't have the money or forces to win the battle.
Yet that is what Jeff has done. All while promising to revolutionize everything about WordPress.
So here's my question. Would his effort been better spent on the revolution if he would have just named his site wphelpers.com instead?
I think so. And that is a lesson to all of us.
We can get frustrated by a variety of things that happen in the community. But few of us have the kind of #FU money to deal with lawsuits like these.
So choose your battles wisely. And dear gawd, please stop picking on my friend BobWP. 🙂