This case should present as a cautionary tale of why you want to ensure you’ve got your auto-renewals on, and you’re ensuring the renewal works, for your website domains if you plan on using them long term for any purpose. Failing to renew timely (or ensuring there is actual renewal) can have unintended frustrating consequences.
Plaintiffs-Appellants: Scott Rigsby and Scott Rigsby Foundation, Inc. (together “Rigsby”).
Defendants-Appellees: GoDaddy, Inc., GoDaddy.com, LLC, and GoDaddy Operating Company, LLC and Desert Newco, LLC (together “GoDaddy”).
Scott Rigsby is a physically challenged athlete and motivational speaker who started the Scott Rigsby Foundation. In 2007, in connection with the foundation he registered the domain name “scottrigsbyfoundation.org” with GoDaddy.com. Unfortunately, and allegedly as a result of a glitch in GoDaddy’s billing system, Rigsby failed to pay the annual renewal fee in 2018. In these instances, typically the domain will then be free to purchase by anyone and this is exactly what happened – a third-party registered the then-available domain name and turned it into a gambling information site. Naturally this is a very frustrating situation for Rigsby.
Rigsby then decided to sue GoDaddy for violations of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a) (which for my non-legal industry readers is the primary federal trademark statute in the United States) and various state laws and sought declaratory and injunctive relief including return of the domain name.
This legal strategy is most curious to me because they didn’t name the third-party that actually purchased the domain and actually made use of it. For those that are unaware, “use in commerce” by the would be trademark infringer is a requirement of the Lanham Act and it seems like a pretty long leap to suggest that GoDaddy was the party in this situation that made use of subject domain.
Rigsby also faced another hurdle, that is, GoDaddy has immunity under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d) (“ACPA”). The ACPA limits the secondary liability of domain name registrars and registries for the act of registering a domain name. Rigsby would be hard pressed to show that GoDaddy registered, used, or trafficked in his domain name with a bad faith intent to profit. Similarly, Rigsby would also be hard pressed to show that GoDaddy’s alleged wrongful conduct surpassed mere registration activity.
Lastly, Rigsby faced a hurdle when it comes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230. I’ve written about Section 230 may times in my blogs, but in general Section 230 provides immunity to websites/platforms from claims stemming from the content created by third-parties. To be sure, there are some exceptions, including intellectual property law claims. See 47 U.S.C. § 230(e)(2) there wasn’t an act done by GoDaddy that would fairly sit square within the Lanham Act such that they would have liability. So this doesn’t apply. Additionally, 47 U.S.C. § 230(e)(3) preempts state law claims. Put another way, with a few exceptions, a platform will also avoid liability from various state law claims. As such, Section 230 would shield GoDaddy from liability for Rigsby’s state-law claims for invasion of privacy, publicity, trade libel, libel, and violations of Arizona’s Consumer Fraud Act. These are garden variety tort law claims that plaintiff’s will typically assert in these kinds of instances, however, plaintiffs have to be careful that they are directed at the right party … and it’s fairly rare that a platform is going to be the right party in these situations.
The District of Arizona dismissed all of the claims against GoDaddy and Rigsby then appealed the dismissal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. While sympathetic to the plight of Rigsby, the court correctly concluded, on February 3, 2023, that Rigsby was barking up the wrong tree in terms of who they named as a defendant and appropriately dismissed the claims against GoDaddy.
To read the court’s full opinion which goes into greater detail about the facts of this case, click on the citation below.
Citation: Rigsby v. GoDaddy, Inc., Case No. 21016182 (9th Cir. Feb. 3, 2023)
DISCLAIMER: This is for general information only. None of this is meant to be legal advice nor should it be relied upon as such.