Who Owns ChrisFarley.com And Other Celebrity Ghost Sites?

A company purporting to own the rights to the late comedian Chris Farley's intellectual property, including his name and likeness, has failed in its effort to take back chrisfarley.com from a cybersquatter.

Make Him Smile, Inc. claimed that a cybersquatter had inapproprately registered chrisfarley.com in 2004 for a website that featured hyperlinks to commercial businesses unrelated to Farley.

For cybersquatters, dead celebrities make good targets. They remain famous enough to attract web traffic. And until the zombie apocalypse happens, deceased celebs are unlikely to attack. 

However, now that the estates of celebrities are finding state laws generously conferring post-mortem IP rights, efforts have been raised to do something about celebrity ghost sites proliferating on the Internet.

The cybersquatters may still have a slight advantage.

Make Him Smile was able to convince an arbitrator that the chrisfarley.com domain was identical or confusingly similar to the Chris Farley famous mark, used from 1990 when he first appeared on Saturday Night Live and through the 1990s in films such as Tommy Boy, Beverly Hills Ninja and Black Sheep until Farley's death in 1997. Further, an arbitrator found that the alleged cybersquatter, a Bahamas-based registrar who never responded to complainant's claims, had no legitimate interest and had registered the domain in "bad faith."

And yet, the cybersquatter still prevailed because Make Him Smile provided no evidence it received a valid transfership of Farley's rights from his family.

Those managing the post-mortem rights of dead celebrities continue to be agressive in legal action, but many seem bedeviled by the paperwork details. Eventually, this sort of thing can be sorted out.

For example, nearly ten years ago, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem lost a battle to force a cybersquatter to hand over alberteinstein.com for failure to convince an arbitrator it owned legitimate ownership over Albert Einstein. But after getting the paperwork in order, HUJ emerged victorious in 2009 against the cybersquatter of einsteinwebdesign.com.

Cybersquatters should keep that in mind before they rush to register chrisfarleydeath.com

E-mail: eriqgardner@yahoo.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner