The Strange Case of Meg's Domains
BY Nancy Scola | Friday, April 23 2010
Meg Whitman is the former head of eBay, a Republican candidate for governor of California, and the proud owner of such domain names as MegWhitmanforGovernor.com and MegWhitman2010.com -- but that wasn't always the case. Back in 2008, as Whitman was getting her ducks in a row to declare her candidacy, one duck she and her team let wander off was registering some obvious website addresses.
A Santa Monica man by the name of Thomas Hall, however, had the foresight to pick up those domains. Hall registered those, along with other Whitman-related URLs like Whitman2010.com, back in early 2008, when there were first rumblings that Whitman was considering a run. "I just thought it was kind of funny," Hall has said, though legal documents tell that Hall used the sites as ad farms. Hall reported spending about ten bucks a piece on the domains.
Whitman was not pleased. She took her case to the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization, where she argued that her name was the equivalent of a global service mark, given the "international recognition and wide publicizing of her fame and achievement" that left "Meg Whitman" inextricably linked to eBay in the public mind. Denied there, she took Hall to federal court under cybersquatting laws. Hall and Whitman eventually came to a settlement. Some estimate that between legal expenses and the Hall settlement, Whitman may have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars getting her hands on MegWhitmanforGovernor.com and the rest of the domains.
All of the domains mentioned above today redirect to MegWhitman.com, the official Whitman campaign site which also happens to the the least obviously campaign-y domain in the Whitman stable.
The interesting bit is that while Whitman wasn't an official candidate at the time those expenses where expended, those domain names stayed good (actually, were only good) once Whitman threw her hat in the ring. That has the LA Times asking today, in this brave new digital world, should money spent by a candidate on electronic assets like domain names count as campaign expenses down the line?
This whole Whitman situation also creates the opportunity to ask a semi-related question that's been on my mind: once Robert Gibbs is no longer White House press secretary, what becomes of @presssec?