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YouTube Sued Over Domain Use

By Keith Regan E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
Nov 2, 2006 11:37 AM PT

An industrial equipment maker whose domain name is Utube.com is suing video-sharing site YouTube, saying user confusion has cost it business and forced it to invest in more robust servers for its Web site.

YouTube Sued Over Domain Use

Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment said it has been forced to move its Web servers multiple times and has experienced numerous crashes of its site due to traffic intended for the viral video site, which Google has agreed to purchase for US$1.65 billion.

Mistaken Identity

The Perrysburg, Ohio-based company said it uses its Web site to receive customer orders and inquiries and is seeking to have a court force YouTube to change its name or pay to help the manufacturer rebrand itself under a new online identity.

Utube claims in the lawsuit that it has had dibs on the utube.com domain for a decade, having registered the domain name in 1996. By contrast, YouTube was founded late in 2004 and the YouTube domain went live in February of 2005. A beta version launched about three months later and the video-sharing site went fully live late last year.

While the problem has been growing in recent months along with YouTube's popularity, the news that Google was buying YouTube caused a spike in traffic to Utube.com that crippled the site starting on Oct. 9, Universal said.

The company's site once drew a steady 1,500 unique users monthly, Utube said, but that figure has soared to some 2 million per month in recent weeks.

"We have moved our Web site four times during recent days to servers with increasing levels of bandwidth capable of handling not only our customers and reps, but the continuing deluge of confused video searchers," said Universal Tube owner Ralph Girkins.

Surprising Lawsuit

Ironically, one of the first issues raised in Google's YouTube purchase was legal concerns, but those concerns were focused on copyright issues since much of YouTube's content is user-generated videos using copyright-protected songs.

Neither Google nor YouTube responded to requests for comment on the lawsuit.

"This is an enormous expense and distraction for us," Girkins said. He added that the company even got a call from police in Australia "accusing us of having child pornography on our Web site.

"I resent this personally and this confusion is hurting our business," he continued.

"We were there first -- by 10 years," Girkins noted. "Now I see a potential re-branding that could take years to complete. I'm not the kind of person who looks for lawsuits, but my business is being threatened by this situation."

Settlement in the Making?

Domain-name confusion has been around as long as the World Wide Web. Some have tried to capitalize on the element of human error and confusion, by snatching up like-sounding domains and establishing ad-filled outposts.

YouTube, meanwhile, has grown dramatically in just over a year of being live, and now serves up an estimated 100 million video views each day. Google is purchasing the firm for that expertise as well as the social-networking nature of the site, which encourages users to rate and share videos.

The case is unique in that it will be difficult for Universal Tube to prove that YouTube infringed on any copyrighted property, since the two domains are distinct. A settlement is likely and could benefit YouTube -- and, by extension, Google -- if it were to take ownership of the Utube Web site to help capture that traffic more directly.

"This kind of conflict is not new," noted Blogging Stocks analyst Michael Canfield. "It happens all the time with 800 numbers, for example.

"My guess is that a settlement will be reached and Google will be cutting a check to Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment," he added.

Google and YouTube, meanwhile, are attempting to avoid more significant lawsuits relating to copyright infringement. After striking agreements with some record labels just before the deal was announced, YouTube is now moving aggressively to purge copyrighted video. Clips from "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central have been removed, as have some 30,000 clips of TV shows from Japan.