April 8, 1998 6:50 PM PDT

Country music artists sue over domains

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A coalition of 24 country music artists has filed a lawsuit against a California businessman who gained notoriety last month for redirecting the domain names of famous people to a pornographic Web site.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in California, charges Jim E. Salmon with trademark infringement, unfair competition, and violation of rights of publicity for registering the domain names of the artists.

Salmon spent upwards of $40,000 to register more than 450 famous domain names, including those of country music stars such as Leeroy Parnell, Reba McEntire, and Trace Adkins. Salmon also owns domains names for various ethnic groups such as "www.nativeamericans.com" and "www.asianamericans.com" as well as concepts such as "www.1stamendment.com" and "www.billofrights.com."

The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop Salmon from continuing to use the names and an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages. The coalition is expected to seek compensation from any profits associated with the artists' names.

The plaintiffs said in the complaint that they have the exclusive rights to commercially exploit their names, and that their fame is linked to a wider network of endorsements, merchandise, and commercial endeavors. Furthermore, the plaintiffs allege that Salmon will deprive them of revenues and will participate in unfair business practices by selling products associated with their names or by simply selling off the domains.

As reported in March, Salmon drew widespread attention when he diverted many of his domain names to a pornographic site that showed First Lady Hillary Clinton dressed in dominatrix attire. Salmon claimed he was trying to bring the public's attention to the site's disrespect for the Clintons.

Instead, many were outraged, and used the situation as fodder for the present-day lawsuit.

Although the new suit also charges that he purposefully registered numerous versions of famous names to exploit them, Salmon claims he acted under the premise of free enterprise.

"As I read some of the rules of the InterNIC, the main rule that stuck in my mind was 'first come, first served,'" said Salmon.

Salmon also denies he participated in unfair business practices, since some of the artists, such as Reba McEntire, had their own Web sites before he registered their names.

He notes that country artist Lorrie Morgan, who is among the 24 suing Salmon, registered her Web site months before he did, and chose not to register her entire name.

"I'm not stopping Lorrie Morgan from having a Web site by having her domain name," he said. "I don't understand how that harmed anyone."

Currently, Salmon's domains with country artist names lead to Country Juke Box, which links to Internet music and video retailer CD Universe and presents a few facts about country music. The site's only other link leads to a disclaimer.

"I'm interested in the history of country music and I'm a huge country music fan, and have many CDs of the domain names I own. I just happen to be an opportunist who saw a potential value of something down the road," Salmon said.

 

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