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A Statement From the FurryMuck Wizards

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From Steven 'Shaterri' Stadniki, a FurryMuck Wizard as posted on alt.fan.furry: "Hello there. This is Steven Stadnicki, a.k.a. Shaterri; for those
folks who don't know me, I'm one of the long-time wizards on
FurryMUCK. Since I've been one of the people driving the
furrymuck.com domain issue from the wizards' side, I've decided to
be the one to respond to the various issues that have been raised
publically in the matter. While some wizards' opinions may differ
from mine -- we're a diverse group with a fairly diverse range of
viewpoints -- I've shared this letter with the rest of the wizcorps
and can safely say that my statements reflect the consensus view of
the FurryMUCK wizards. The tone is likely to get unfortunately
legalistic in spots, but I think it's important to express our view
of the facts as we see them, as objectively as possible."
Click below for the whole statement.

A bit of background on the situation: while it's possible that
there may have been isolated contact between Dwight Dutton and one
of the wizards at some point, as a group we weren't aware of his
ownership of the furrymuck.* domains until they were put up for
auction. The auction caught us all off-guard; Dwight made no
attempts to contact the wizards and never offered us the domains,
but instead simply put them up for sale. Once we became aware of
the auction we tried to get in touch with Mr. Dutton to express our
discomfort with the auction itself and request that the domains be
transferred to us; we were more than willing to pay all the fees
he'd incurred in registering them. He refused our offer, and after
making it clear that we considered the domains to be rightfully
ours and that we thought he had no right to sell them, we eventually
decided that we had no choice but to contact eBay and request that
the auction be pulled.

So why do we consider the domain to be ours? As others have noted,
we have no copyright on the name FurryMUCK (and indeed, the name
isn't a copyrightable entity). However, we consider ourselves to
have a common-law service mark (SM) on the name FurryMUCK. The
following quotes are from the US Patent and Trademark Office webpage
on basic facts about trademarks,
http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/tac/doc/basic/basic_facts.html:

"A TRADEMARK is either a word, phrase, symbol or design, or
combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, which identifies
and distinguishes the source of the goods or services of one party
from those of others. A service mark is the same as a trademark
except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service
rather than a product.

"Trademark rights arise from either (1) actual use of the mark, or
(2) the filing of a proper application to register a mark [...]
Federal registration is not required to establish rights in a mark,
nor is it required to begin use of a mark."

And according to the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy
(UDRP), http://www.icann.org/udrp/udrp-policy-24oct99.htm, the
conditions necessary for a complaint are that the domain name in
question "is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or
service mark in which the complainant has rights", that the current
holder has "no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the
domain name", and that the domain "has been registered and is being
used in bad faith."

Mr. Exline's offer is certainly a good one on the surface, but it
has what we consider to be some troubling aspects to it. For one,
while he promises to promote FurryMUCK on the domain 'in a manner
acceptable to the wizards', the domain (specifically, furrymuck.com)
would still be his and nothing would prevent him from deciding to do
something else with it in the future. More importantly, though...
he, naturally, demands 'an obligatory (yet discrete) banner link' to
ConFurence. As he says, "That's all I'm asking for hosting the
website on my nickel' -- but none of the FurryMUCK administrators
have asked Mr. Exline to host the site, and in fact we have ample
resources to do it ourselves. To use a somewhat less-than-objective
analogy, if someone steals your car and starts housing it in their
garage, then even if they offer to do all the maintenance on it and
let you drive it around as long as you let them keep it in their
garage -- they've still stolen your car.

So why are we going to all this trouble? As cliche as it may sound,
we really are doing this for the good of the muck as a whole.
FurryMUCK has more than 10 years of history behind it now; it's
grown right along with the fandom, and its name carries an
undeniable recognition factor within the fandom. I would be deeply
troubled if the FurryMUCK wizards were to try and use the muck's
name to advertise someone else's products (banner ads in the login
screen?) and I'm equally troubled with the concept of someone else
attempting to profit from FurryMUCK's good name. This is more a
matter of principle than anything else; speaking personally, as a
longtime FurryMUCK user and contributor I feel like my own hard work
would be exploited for someone else's profit, and I just find that
mildly offensive. I have no problems personally with Mr. Exline,
and certainly no problems with Confurence itself (this year will
mark my 11th straight year of attendance), but at the same time I
must disagree with his handling of this situation. I hope this
letter better explains my position in the matter, and the position
of the wizards as a group; please don't hesitate to contact me
personally at the address below if you have any questions.

Comments

Your rating: None

Glad to know it wasn't just some clicker-happy eBayer annoyed at being out-bid. What with its deal with Microsoft for a Hailstorm web service, eBay could become even more popular than it already is. This AuctionWatch article speaks pretty highly of the VeRO program; does anyone have an experience to share?

Your rating: None

I dont have any vested interest in this either way, but from reading the news above, I see two problems with Shaterri's legal case:

1) It seems obvious that there was contact by at least one wiz with Dwight, which will need to come out in the wash (and certainly would in a court). If it was not clear which wiz spoke for all, it could be assumed one wiz could. So that might kill the case if it's found that the wiz in contact had his/her chance, and blew it.

2) I doubt if the whole service mark argument will fly. If you read the rest of the web site quoted, it seems to me it is pretty specific that is relates to "COMMERCE". Since there doesnt seem to be any commerce involved, the service mark argument won't fly.

So if this is important for the wizzes to pursue, I think they should find better arguments, or risk losing their case.

Raster

Your rating: None

1) The domain name was legally registered and, as property, free to be sold to whomever the owner wished in whatever way he wished.

2) Dwight reportedly asked repeatedly if anyone in the wizcorp wanted the domains and was repeatedly told 'no.'

3) A well known wiz (Revar) attempted to purchase the domains for the wizcorp and was roundly flamed for his efforts.

4) Short of hiring a skywriting team, Mr. Dutton could not have been more obvious about the sale either long before it or during it.

It seems to me that, as a group, the wizcorp of furrymuck could not have cared less about the domain sale. At any rate the sale is finished, and speaking as a FurryMuck player, it won't bother me one iota that the Confurence group has a banner ad on the FurryMuck.com address. I might actually click there from time to time. The wizcorp should be grateful the domain isn't being used as a front for a pay-for-porn site or some such thing as sometimes befalls 'homeless urls'.

It's far too late to gnash your teeth about it. You should have offered to buy the names when mr. Dutton offered them up in the first place if it meant so much to you. At least the domain will actually be about FurryMuck now and not simply point to dev/null someplace; that's more than it has been doing for the last couple of years.

I look forward to seeing the site Darrell creates (perhaps with a furrymuck weekly newspaper? nudge, nudge.) This matter is done and over with and certain wizzes need to get over it already.

- Shockwave

Reality is not only stranger than we think, it's stranger than we CAN think!

Your rating: None

Good comments. It's all old news at this point of course, it's been over for about four months.

I was the original owner of all three confurence domains, all three fursuit domains, furadio, spacewolf & others. In each case they were handed off to respectively, the original confurence people, the fursuit list people, the guy who did furadio (Bahamut) and Dan Flahive, who did Space Wolf. All of which was done without fanfare and probably few people noticed. But that's OK.

I was able to give confurence.net to Darrel only because the orignal con people did not want it - in case anyone is wondering why confurence group now uses the .net domain and the other two no longer have anything to do with the convention - or me.

Fursuit.org now is run by Robert King and the fursuiter list people. Furadio has gone away and the domains have expired (anybody want them?) but it was a nice show while it lasted.

I still own spacewolf.com. Dan Flahive is using it - and has once again started doing spacewolf stuff after 10 years. That's nice.

As to the subject of this particular article....

I owned all three furrymuck domains as well - literally for years. Nobody connected with the muck ever contacted me, no phone, email nothing. Not ever.

Time passed, and the domains were a month away from expiring. Being out of work (key point) I wasn't in a position to spend $210 to renew them. I listed them on Ebay thinking I might get $50 to $75 for them tops.

Nobody was more surprised than I was by the result. NOW the muck wizards came out of the woodwork - and too late, Ebay has some real issues with cancelling an auction after it has bids. I did offer to end the auction early when somebody they liked was winning, but it shot up to $500 and they didn't want to pay that. Well, I had a busted water heater spewing all over my Win2000 server and I needed the money.

They managed to get the auction stopped through the Vero program - "Verified Rights" - which actually verifies nothing at all. Ebay received a letter from "Furry Enterprises" saying it was their unregistered service mark. Nothing checked or verified anywhere. The auction stood at $500 when "Furry Enterprises" had it ended - with Darrel Exline as the last high bidder.

Darrel indicated that he was willing to complete the sale at that price. So the domains were sold. Sure, I might have gotten more, but it was already a lot more than I ever thought I WOULD get, and I knew the person receiving them would not abuse them - and abuse of the names was the only real concern the muck wizards had in the first place.

And Darrel even offered to GIVE them, for FREE, the .org and .net domains.

All of this was four months ago. Where do we stand now?

Furrymuck.com has been a "Coming Soon!" page for the last four months, with no content on it at all.

Furrymuck.org and furrymuck.net didn't even get the DNS records changed. Darrel owns them and renewed the domains, but didn't change the DNS entries for anything but the .com domain - and so the other two still do what they always did - redirect people to the official muck site. I would have redirected them to the .com site but there's nothing there to see!

So after all of this - furrymuck.org and furrymuck.net remain exactly the same as they were before, furrymuck.com has no content at all, and the muck wizards have drifted back to wherever it was they were sleeping.

Go figure.

Your rating: None

There's been a lot of finger-pointing and judgements passed (mostly on alt.flame.furry, so take that as you will). I think it's safe to make the following observations:

1. The wizcorps of FurryMUCK might be just a tad disorganized. That contact to one wizard may not have been communicated to the rest is Not a Good Thing, but that's water under the bridge. It's also not necessarily surprising, though - if you tell something to, say, the head of the video room for a convention, there's not exactly a 100% chance that what you say will get directly to the convention chair.

2. We're getting filtered versions of the sequence of events, tinged by who remembers what and with what degree of accuracy. I've seen conflicting statements, and I'm not convinced that we've seen the whole story. And you know what? I'm not sure we should. Ideally, this should have stayed a private matter to be worked out by the principals, not tried in the court of Usenet.

3. There are no good guys here. There are no bad guys here. There's only shades of gray. It's quite evident that this whole mess stems from a breakdown of communications that got blown 'way out of proportion.

Finally, for my part, I feel that while Darrell's sticking a CF banner ad on Furrymuck's domain might be sound business practice, I find it objectionable, ethically speaking, for the precise reasons Shaterri stated.

-Duncan da Husky

Your rating: None

I haven't been a Wizard on FurryMUCK since about 1993.

Your rating: None

I suggest that Shaterri speak with actual legal counsel before making such claims in regard to common-law service marks and such. First of all, Furrymuck is indeed _not_ a commerce concern, so most of that doesn't apply. Furrymuck is not incorporated. There _was_ admitted contact with a member of the group of possible claimants, and internal communication was their responsibility, not Dwight Dutton's...He did not have to contact each member of the group. Finally, he bought the domains fairly, there was no trademark to be infringed upon (check www.marksonline.com, if you wish), and therefore they are his to do with as he wishes. The web is like old frontier, you either act quickly and stake your claim to a piece of land, or someone else will beat you to it. Period.

You know the saying "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing?" If you've not gone to law school, you're not a lawyer, so pretending to be is ill-advised.

Your rating: None

I agree with Duncan on all of his points. We don't have enough information. The information we have is from sources with their own biases, agendas, or faulty memories.

Communcations problems seem to happen in this fandom a lot. I can't tell you how many times, as an editor, I receive second- and third-hand communications supposedly from the owner of some elements in our shared universe sending along their instructions after they fell out of communication for years. If the owner wants to communicate with an editor to whom he/she has submitted material, the person should contact the editor, not a friend of an acquaintance of the editor.

Or, telling all of your personal friends that you are shutting down your business, but not sending any communication to any of the vendors with whom you have standing purchase orders, is not good communcation, either.

There just seem to be a lot more people in this fandom who think that rumors are a valid form of business communication. I seldom experience this sort of thing in my other fannish activities nearly as much as in furry.

:/

-Gene

Your rating: None

My error. My humblest apologies then sir.

Reality is not only stranger than we think, it's stranger than we CAN think!

Your rating: None

My question is why is this such a big stinking deal?

These domains sat unused for years. Links have been pointing to www.furry.org for the "FurryMUCK WebStation" for nearly as long. Just because somebody is selling these unused domains we suddenly care about them? If they were such a big deal and so important to the MUCK then action should have been taken by the WizCorp to secure them to the "rightful owners" long ago. I don't have a terrible lot of sympathy for their plight -- you snooze, you lose.

Ultimately, this is nothing but a tempest in a teapot. I'd lay odds that once this is all settled, no matter who gets it the sites will sit empty for another few years.

Your rating: None

Just a thought, but I think FurryMUCK could be considered a 'commerce concern' for the number of artists who do business there while mucking, such as myself. I don't know if that would have any bearing on things, but as such it is something of an actual marketplace with a direct influence on artists' careers (hobby or otherwise).

-Zhora, Wolverbabe ;)

Your rating: None

I dont have any vested interest in this either way, but from reading the news above, I see two problems with Shaterri's legal case:

1) It seems obvious that there was contact by at least one wiz with Dwight, which will need to come out in the wash (and certainly would in a court). If it was not clear which wiz spoke for all, it could be assumed one wiz could. So that might kill the case if it's found that the wiz in contact had his/her chance, and blew it.

2) I doubt if the whole service mark argument will fly. If you read the rest of the web site quoted, it seems to me it is pretty specific that is relates to "COMMERCE". Since there doesnt seem to be any commerce involved, the service mark argument won't fly.

So if this is important for the wizzes to pursue, I think they should find better arguments, or risk losing their case.

Raster

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an agronomist and Cornwuff from Northern Illinois, interested in sf, homebrewing, photography and running