The Wordpress.com Domain Swindle

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Story Text:

Did Matt Mullenweg of WordPress.org pull a fast one on a domain squatter and wrestle away the WordPress.com domain?

A domain squatter (Ric Johnson) who claimed he bought WordPress.com in late 2003 approached Matt Mullenweg of WordPress.org to make a deal. (His offer was through OpenDomain.org which owns domains like Ohprah.Com, CreativeCommon.Org, BlogRoll.Net, mySearch.org and many other squatter domains which probably can't easily be commercialized). Now Matt's name is on the domain and Ric is wondering why no one at WordPress is returning his calls.

After much debate (same thread) Mr. Johnson was deemed a squatter and Matt passed on the offer. Mr. Johnson then offered it to anyone interested in doing something commercial within the WordPress community, under the pretty-scary OpenDomain.org terms (backlink required on every page, terms may change at any time, domain must be marketed/promoted, etc).

But today Matt has full control of the WordPress.com domain.

Whois shows that on 5/7/05 the domain was assigned away from Ric Johnson to Matt Mullenweg with no change in expiration date. According to OpenDomain.org, if they had made a deal, OpenDomain would have retained ownership and simply granted use.

On May 17 registration was extended 2 years, and eventually to 10 years.

This past August Matt launched WordPress.com, a commercial blog hosting service for WordPress blogs. There reportedly was a backlink to OpenDomain.org initially, in line with the requirements of the OpenDomain.org terms, but it disappeared shortly afterwards. There is still a credit to Ric Johnson for the domain (but no link).

A post from Ric Johnson on WordPress.org suggests that he thinks he's not gotten his due:

I am excited that Matt finally has starting using WordPress.Com, but it seems that he has forgotten the link to OpenDomain when he updated the style. Please put the link to Opendomain.Org back ASAP

Ric also posted a claim on the OpenDomain.org site (undated) suggesting he had a deal with Matt:

If anyone still wonders what happens when a domain becomes popular, please look at WordPress.Com - we paid a tremendous amount of money for this domain, and we could have sold it for a profit of more than 275x what we paid for it. I could have paid off my house! But we believed that Matt could use it better for the blogging community, and we were right! He will be offering FREE wordpress blogs for everyone!

Now it seems no one at WordPress (.org or .com, heh heh) is returning Ric's calls:

From: "Ric Johnson ricjohnsoniii-at-hotmail.com |wordpress hackers list 092004|"
To: wp-hackers@lists.automattic.com
Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2005 09:10:16 -0400
Subject: [wp-hackers] Problems with WordPress.Com

I have a problem with WordPress.Com. I have tried to contact Matt by email, web form, sms, and cell phone. I also tried to contact Donncha, but I can not get a hold of either.

The problem is describe on the MultiUser WordPress forums at: http://mu.wordpress.org/forums/topic/181

Can anyone get a hold of Matt and ask him to respond? Thank you

I must say I agree with Jason Bainbridge on Wordpress.org who capped the thread with:

It will be interesting to see how this plays out given past events...

Comments

I thought domain squatting

I thought domain squatting was now against ICAAN terms or something, and if make a proposal to sell a domain to someone which you are not actively using, then you classify yourself as a domain squatter and are liable to have the domain transferred to the rightful owner.

Indeed, I'm under the

Indeed, I'm under the impression that domain ownership can be removed without notice if ruled to be domain squatting. If Ric has an actual real complaint to make then hopefully we'll see him put it in a legal notice of claimed facts, and remove it from the realm of rumour.

recently interviewed

recently interviewed Eurotrash. he was involved in a potential cybersquatting case.
arbiter.wipo.int/domains/decisions/html/2000/d2000-0449.html

one of the things it said was "There is no evidence that Respondent registered the name with the intention of selling it to Complainant or to a competitor of Complainant or that it did so in order to prevent Complainant from reflecting its trade mark in a domain name. Participation in negotiations for sale initiated by a complainant, by a respondent with a legitimate interest in the domain name, is not evidence of bad faith."

so it probably comes down to who started the $ or lets make a deal talks.

that struck me as the angle

I thought that was the angle... the squatted domains can't be monetized easily, but if they are "leased" for use by the rightful owner (the same one who would have complained if the cybersquatter used the domain) then who can complain? The monetization is back-door (backlinks in this case, on every page of every free web blog published by Matt's new free hosted WordPress... certainly worth $275k). The developed asset is retained by the squatter as well. Wouldn't it be much harder to litigate against a squatter if you previosuly collaborated with him on a mutually beneficial venture using the domain? Sure.

If indeed Matt swiped the domain, I think of two things right away:

1. Matt was smart enough to take it away and avoid the traps (probably using appropriate means)
2. This guy seems to think he had a deal with Matt, and there isn't any visible evidence to suggest otherwise. Did Matt make a deal and reneg in order to get the domain?

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