Livingston man fights pageant over Web sites Sunday, July 24, 2005
By Greg Saitz
When attorneys for the world’s longest-running beauty contest brand you a pornographer and a cybersquatter, you know things have turned ugly.
No one has to tell that to Jerry Goldfaden, a Livingston resident who has been battling on and off with the Miss World competition
for seven years over his desire to run his own beauty contest -Miss World Wide Web. He denies their accusations.
The dispute has been in federal court since early 2002. Last week, a judge denied requests from both sides to decide the case in their favor. It will now proceed toward a trial.
While fights over ownership of Internet domain names and trademarks are fairly common, this one seems to stand out for its tenacity .
At the core of the battle is Goldfaden’s ownership of the Internet domain name, www.missworld.com. which he registered in March 1996. In addition, he registered his miss world wide web name as a trademark with federal officials.
“The bottom line is the guy has missworld.com. That’s a big problem for Miss World,” said Eric. Qsterberg; an attorney with Pitney Hardin in New York who specializes in intellectual property law. “They’ve got to try to get that back.”
That effort has been going on since a few months after Goldfaden bought the rights to use missworld.com. Anyone can buy the rights to an Internet domain name, assuming someone else doesn’t already own it, from various entities that then register the name in a central database.
(Goldfaden also registered various other iterations, including missadultweb.com, misswww.com and missnudeweb.com. He said his intent all along, though, has been to focus on Miss World Wide Web. He has run some contests and posted some pictures but said the threat of litigation from Miss World has limited any full- fledged contests,)
Eric Morley, who founded the London-based Miss World pageant in 1951, faxed Goldfaden a letter in August 1996, advising him the use of the Miss World trade name was an infringement. Morley offered $500 to Goldfaden to turn over ownership.
Goldfaden, now 62, declined, but said he was willing to reach some sort of business arrangement that satisfied both him and Morley, who died in 2000.
“I offered from the very, very beginning to do anything I could to cooperate, to work with him to make sure it wouldn’t interfere with what he wanted,”Goldfaden said in a telephone interview last week
Through the early years, there were negotiations with a man who held the rights to the Miss World USA contest, a feeder competition in which the winner went on to participate in Miss World. For a time, Goldfaden even redirected visitors from his missworld. com site to missworldusa. com.
Eventually, in January 2001, Miss World filed a complaint with the World Intellectual Property Organization, which mediates disputes regarding ownership of domain names. The process was established, in part, to deal with “cybersquatting,” the practice of buying a specific domain name of a brand or trademark, say coke.com, and then offering to sell it back to the company.
More often than not, panels decide in favor of the person or entity who owns the brand. For example, in May the organization returned the domain name morganfreeman.com to actor Morgan Freeman after he filed a complaint.
But in the Miss World case, an arbitrator sided with Goldfaden. Citing Goldfaden’s cooperation with the contest’s licensee for the U.S. pageant, the arbitrator said Miss World couldn’t prove Goldfaden was acting in “badfaith”.
Miss World attorneys then challenged Goldfaden’s trademark registration through the U.S. Patent and Tradelnark Office. Goldfaden responded by filing a complaint in federal court in Newark, asking for a declaration that his trademarks and the Web site name do not infringe on Miss World’s trademark. Miss World currently uses www.missworld.tv. The federal lawsuit superseded the complaint filed with the patent office.
“This really is an attempt by a big entity to stop my guy from having a legitimate business,” said Millburn attorney Mark Ingber, who represents Goldfaden. “There’s a million ‘Miss’contests out there and (Goldfaden) is just one of a number of them. ”
Attorneys for Miss World declined to comment. But at an August 2004 court hearing, attorney Patricia Hatry contended Goldfaden has yet to hold a beauty contest.
“They have no right to use our name, she said, according to a transcript of the hearing. “They have not used it for any bona fide purpose. The only uses we have seen on it was pornographic pictures of nude women”.
Ingber called those allegations red herrings, and Goldfaden insisted he’s never had naked pictures on his site. For an unknown period during the time Internet users were being redirected from his site to the U. S. Miss World site, Goldfaden said those users were redirected again, ultimately to adult content.
He said he stopped redirecting visitors from missworld.com as soon as he learned of the situation, which occurred after missworldusa.com changed hands.
“It’s absolutely nuts,” said Goldfaden, an engineer who for two decades helped run a sales rep company. “All I want to do is run my site and be left alone.”
But that has to wait. He said he took down missworld.com a few months ago to redesign it.
Meanwhile, the legal fight will continue. Goldfaden said he’s aheady spent about $75,000 on attorneys fees and is willing to invest thousands more to retain his rights to Miss World Wide Web.
At the same time, he’s convinced if he could just sit down with Miss World executives — not their attorneys — a deal could be reached quicldy. At this point, though, he’d like to be reimbursed for all the money he’s spent defending hiInself.
“It’s a case where I’d reach a settlement with them in 15 minutes,” he said, “for not a lot of dollars.”
Greg Saitz may be reached at [email protected] or (973) 3927946.
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