How to reclaim or restrain someone impersonating your personal web site?
January 24, 2010 6:50 PM   Subscribe

An ex-member of our family has taken domain names of family members' names, and hosted a hate site impersonating one of them. How can we stop him and reclaim these domain names?

A distant member of our family has detached himself from the family and has waged a sort of war against us for some time. Before leaving the family, he was a friend and the computer repair person for several members of the family. But after leaving, we found out that he had installed monitoring software and spyware into the computer, because he played tricks and tampered with the computers until we brought in a different member of the family to wipe them out and install a fresh copy of Windows, to remove whatever remote control software was installed.

I believe he may also have a restraining order due to harassment of his ex-wife. I've heard stories of him basically stalking her, harassing her via phone and email and so on.

Now for a number of years he has owned several domain names of family names (e.g. firstnamelastname.com). He typically just points them towards his personal site, which is filled with odd phrases (Buddhist I think) and joke pictures and hate messages towards football players; kinda weird, but obviously not associated with the family members. Lately he has apparently started a web design team because the domain names point to a sales ad for his company.

However, one member of the family recently married, and he already snapped up the domain for her new name. But the bad part is, this time he decided to add some hateful comments to the page, pretending to be her. We only discovered this when another relative found "her" website and was appalled at the messages on there.

Her parents are furious - and have money for a good lawyer. What can they do about this? What laws cover this sort of hateful behavior (cross-state; he moved to Florida after separating himself from the family)? Is it possible to get her domain name back, or legally restrain him from any fraudulent websites representing family members, or anything like that?

If you were put in this situation, what would you do?
posted by Ricket to Law & Government (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
You'll probably need to hire a lawyer, but it shouldn't be too difficult. There are obviously legal methods to reclaim squatted domains like this.
posted by delmoi at 7:03 PM on January 24, 2010


I am pretty damn far from being a lawyer, but I wonder -- is that fake site grounds for a slander suit?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:04 PM on January 24, 2010


If you were put in this situation, what would you do?

I'd speak with a lawyer and see if either legal action or simply a stern letter could prompt this relative to stop, and then I would ignore the nasty relative.

Something to consider would be creating a nice personal website--if someone googles you and finds two sites, one of which claims to be you and contains hateful stuff and the other of which also claims to be you and contains reasonable, positive, realistic content, the natural assumption to make is that the real "you" is the non-crazy one. You might also benefit from something like Reputation Defender (I have no idea if this particular company is worth hiring, they just have the first google search result).
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:05 PM on January 24, 2010


WHOIS it and let us know who it's registered through.
posted by floam at 7:17 PM on January 24, 2010


IANYL, but I can say that there are two primary legal mechanisms by which people challenge cybersquatting, at least the in US. Those are the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) and the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). However, both protect only trademarks or service marks -- e.g., marks/names that have been used in commerce. Personal names are only protected to the extent they have been used in commerce. (Names need not be registered as trademarks to be protected, as long as they have been used for commerce.)

That being said, never underestimate the power of a sternly worded letter from an attorney. Even if trademark law/cybersquatting law can't help you, there may be other legal means to attempt to get the website shut down (if not get the domain name transferred). I'm thinking that (depending on your jurisdiction), the person whose name is being used could seek a protective order under a stalking/harrassment statute.
posted by devinemissk at 8:20 PM on January 24, 2010


Very definitely try to figure out what company is hosting the website and contact them directly about this.

The easiest way to do this is with the WHOIS information - check the nameservers that the domain name is pointed to, and try browsing to the website to see if it points back to the web host's main website.

Most web hosts will take the site down if you mention this story. Don't mention lawyers immediately, but if they resist, just say that you understand, but you may be having your lawyers contact them.
posted by notnamed at 8:38 PM on January 24, 2010


@notnamed, what is your basis for asserting that most web hosts will take a site down for that?

"The Communications Decency Act basically protects registrars and web hosts from liability for the content that people put up using such services"
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 9:34 PM on January 24, 2010


Alongside attempting to persuade the registrar to do what you want, you might try finding out who this clown's hosting provider is. Depending on the provider, abusive content like this might well be in breach of its terms of service. If he's hosting the abusive content on the same server as his business (and it would not surprise me at all to find that somebody stupid enough to do this is stupid enough to do that) then having his business site jerked out from under him might cause him some quite satisfying inconvenience.
posted by flabdablet at 10:36 PM on January 24, 2010


nakedcodemonkey, I do technical support for 300+ web hosting companies (working for an outsourced support company). While we leave most of these policy-based decisions up to the company management, they're usually rather safe than sorry in these situations.

Obviously YMMV, I am not (or at least, may not be) the technical support agent you will speak to about this. But in my experience in the industry, most web hosting companies err on the side of heavy-handedly taking sites down at the whiff of controversy. Most likely they'll just throw a "suspended" page up, but it's better than nothing.
posted by notnamed at 10:36 PM on January 24, 2010


Surprised no one's mentioned it, but I'd definitely talk to the lawyers about his spyware/keylogging activities in the past.

And like notnamed says, webhosts are particularly on-top of these sorts of things. Being as this guy's already made quite the bread trail with his various activities, just finding out who is hosting his sites and giving them a ring (in cases like these, as opposed to email or ticketing systems) about the predicament will raise red flags and they'll put up some sort of temp page and likely contact him regarding the issue.

This is where it might be in your best interest to wait until authorities can cache or otherwise salvage whatever they can from his endeavors as once he gets the email about his site, he'll probably be scrambling to delete all evidence otherwise.

If he happens to host the sites from a personal server from work or home, you'll probably need to wait until law enforcement steps in until the information is offline. In the meanwhile, document what you can by saving the webpages to your own hard drive just in case.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes.
posted by june made him a gemini at 1:50 AM on January 25, 2010


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