Michael Robertson--No Champion of the 1st Amendment
Robertson, unhappy about my blog, sues me
The Internet has become a bastion of free speech for bloggers. Robertson, who claims to be a strong supporter for such rights, seems to feel quite differently when that speech is critical of him.
You see, just as the Internet is a marvelous vehicle for companies to promote their goods and services, it can be an equally effective tool for dissatisfied customers or disgruntled employees and shareholders to criticize a particular product, company or management team. Much to the chagrin of trademark owners, such "gripe sites" (which often include the company name or trademark in the URL), are very difficult, if not impossible, to shut down. Fortunately, the First Amendment typically shields the operators of corporate gripe sites from liability. If the gripe site is non-commercial in nature, the operator's freedom of speech will generally override the trademark owner's interest in controlling the use of its company name or trademark, as it should.
Freedom of Speech on Freespire.com
Earlier this year, Linspire was given the opportunity to purchase the domain name Freespire.com. They declined. When I was CEO, I spearheaded the Freespire project, but I was unable to obtain the freespire DOT COM domain name, so we did everything at freespire DOT ORG. We tried incessantly to obtain the .com domain, but the owner would never sell it to us. So you can imagine my surprise when earlier this year, the owner finally agreed to sell the domain and it was offered to Linspire, but they declined to acquire it. (I think that also sums up the commitment Linspire had to Freespire.) So, around eight months ago, only AFTER Linspire declined to purchase the freespire.com domain name, I decided to acquire it as a non-commercial opinion site to share my views about Linspire, Freespire and desktop Linux in general.
It had been over six months since I had left Linspire, and I had become increasingly disappointed with its management and decided to use Freespire.com to vent that dissatisfaction. I had certainly been observing the downfall of the company, and by this time I had learned about Robertson having filed false claims against several executives, calling severance payments "embezzlement," and I wanted a venue to express my displeasure. For me, the writing was on the wall that Robertson was destroying the company. (Just a few months later the company was gone and the shareholders remain in the dark.)
At the freespire.com site, I praised the good work other distributions were doing with Linux (Ubuntu, Mint, Nimblex, etc.), expressed dissatisfaction with Linspire/Freespire, and linked to my blog. At no time have I ever sold any of these distributions or had a financial stake in them. I was merely exercising my freedom of speech.
So, today, Michael Robertson (via the now-defunct Linspire shell company "Digital Cornerstone") sued me for "cybersquatting, trademark infringement, and unfair competition," claiming that the freespire.com "gripe" site should be taken down and seeking $100,000 and other damages.
First, I'm a little confused how Robertson is suing me for trademark infringement, considering there is no registered trademark for "Freespire." (Linspire filed for one but never actually got it registered and all the Linspire IP went to Xandros months ago.)
My freespire.com site never sold anything. It never used the Freespire logo or even used the Freespire name in large fonts or type. There was certainly no confusion, as it was quite clear this site wasn't Linspire's site. In fact, there was even a disclaimer stating the fact that the site was not owned by or affiliated with Linspire or the Freespire distro in anyway.
Companies hate "gripe sites," but consumers appreciate
them and the First Amendment Protects Them
them and the First Amendment Protects Them
As I pointed out earlier, it's rare that a non-commercial blog or opinion site is found to be cybersquating or violating trademarks, as they are protected by the First Amendment. And it's extremely rare for monetary damages to be awarded in a cybersquating case, particularly one as non-consequential as this one. (The freespire.com domain only got around 100 hits per day, and even fewer today. See the Alexa graph at the end of this blog.) Yet Robertson is seeking $100,000 in damages? Linspire never complained or objected about the site, even though there was a clear contact link for the site's webmaster on every page. No cease and desist letter was ever mailed. They never sought relief or arbitration from ICANN. No, instead, in classic Robertson fashion, he headed straight to the court room because this lawsuit is about intimidation and suppressing speech, not about legitimate damages.
The lawsuit even states, "Although the FREESPIRE mark was recently assigned as part of an asset purchase, [Robertson] expressly reserved all rights in and to all claims against Carmony arising from the freespire.com domain name and website." Now, why would Robertson want to carve out that one thing to hang on to? He's no longer involved with Freespire, so why does he care? Is he desperate for money? With Robertson's companies struggling and laying employees off, does anyone really believe this is the most important thing Robertson should be concerning himself with? His motives are pretty transparent--to suppress freedom of expression that is critical of Robertson.
Keep Speech Free at Freespire.com
This is a nuisance lawsuit, intended to silence my freedom of speech. I will defend my right to free speech by continuing to point freespire.com to my blog and keep reporting on Robertson's disturbing actions.
I'll keep you posted on this YARL (Yet Another Robertson Lawsuit).
UPDATE: Michael Robertson made a pretty ironical post today on his Michael's Minute. So I made an appropriate response, and it was quickly censored and removed. Below is a screenshot of what it looked like BEFORE my post was censored (click on it to enlarge to read). Michael Robertson is welcome to post here at anytime and I will assure him his non-anonymous comment will be published. As I say, Robertson can dish it, but can't take it. Just more evidence of his desire to squash free speech.
Censorship at MichaelRobertson.com
Penn & Teller on the First Amendment (Explicit Language)