Politico threatens to sue blogger for trademark violation — again

Mike Riggs Contributor
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One year ago next month, Steve Gutowksi received his first correspondence from Politico. Or rather, he received a letter on Politico’s behalf. It wasn’t a hat-tip or a thank-you, but a take-down notice informing Gutowski, the founder of TheCollegePolitico.com, that his website violated Politico’s trademark: the word “politico,” which has existed longer than either site, is now property of Allbritton Communications.

In a three-page letter from D.C. law firm Dow Lohnes, an attorney representing Politico explained that because Gutowski’s conservative college blog covered “the same subject matter” as Politico, Gutowski would have to stop publishing and hand over his domain.

Thanks to a pro bono legal team composed of Josephy Leone and Tyler Sisk, that never happened. Gutowski graduated in May 2009, but kept using his site, which he says is completely distinguishable from Politico.com.

“I was lucky enough from the publicity from the blogosphere I was able to get some pro bono legal represenstaion,” Gutowski told The Daily Caller. “There were talks between [Politico’s] lawyers and my lawyers, and then it just sort of stopped several months ago.”

Until this week, when Gutowski received another take-down notice [PDF], this time arguing that he’s “squatting” on the TheCollegePolitico.com domain.

“We have not received any response to our demand that Mr. Gutowski immediately cease all use of any marks or domain names that are confusingly similar to the POLITICO Marks, including all use of the mark THE COLLEGE POLITICO and the domain name ‘thecollegepolitico.com,’ and that Mr. Gutowski promptly take all necessary steps to transfer ‘thecollegepolitico.com’ domain name to out client,” the letter reads.

The letter also charges that Gutowski’s use of the word “politico” is “actiononable under both the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act,” which prevents consumers from buying up domain names and using them to wring money out of companies or persons who might one day seek to start a website using their name in the URL.

Gutowski points to discussions that took place between his attorneys and representatives from Dow Lohnes over the last year as evidence that he responded. He also says that he’s still using the domain.

“I haven’t been able to maintain the blog with the kind of frequency with my new job,” said Gutowski, who now writes for the Media Research Center’s NewsBusters blog. “At the same time I do have a plan for what I’d like to use the blog for, which is training college students to become bloggers. My plan is not to have it just sit there.”

Thus far, Gutowski is the only web entrepreneur who has stood up to Politico. The outlet succeeded against Tory-Politico.com, a little known political site in the UK, in 2009. That domain now refers readers to GoDaddy.com, where the domain name is currently for sale.
“I wasn’t the first one they did this to,” Gutowski said. “This also happened to a Spanish website dedicated to American politics. So they had to give up their names and domain name. They’re going after people who don’t have a lot of resources and are essentially trying to scare them into doing what they want. I was just lucky enough to get representation.”

A request for comment was not immediately returned by Politico.