Web strategy redirects to trouble.com

A local contractor’s strategy to boost traffic to his company’s website might have backfired big time.

Remodeling firm Franko-LaFratta Construction was so steamed by what it says are unfair competitive practices by Classic Kitchens that it filed a complaint in U.S. District Court asking for up to $700,000 in damages and a jury trial. (You can read the complaint here. It’s not very long)

In a lawsuit filed Oct. 7, Franko-LaFratta alleges that Classic Kitchens of Virginia violated the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act in order to “intercept customers looking for Franko-LaFratta and direct them to Classic Kitchens’ website,” the suit states.

Classic Kitchens this year registered domain names such as frankoLaFratta.us, FrankoLaFratta.co, frankoLaFratta.net and directed them to its website. The lawsuit aims to collect $100,000 per web address that used Franko-LaFratta’s name.

In September, RBS reported that Classic Kitchens purchased the domains for other competitors with extensions instead of the typical “.com.” For example, www.gracestreet.biz linked to Classic Kitchens’ website, as did www.lanebuilt.net and  www.homemasons.co.

A representative of HomeMasons declined to comment, and BizSense was unable to reach someone at Lane Built. But no cases have been filed by those companies.

Matt Gunn, a vice president and co-owner at Classic Kitchens, said in September that he registered the domains to boost his search engine optimization, not to redirect customers who were trying to find his competitors. It was a small piece of his attempt to move up on Google searches, he said. You can read that story here.

When reached by phone yesterday, Gunn referred most questions to his attorney, John Dozier. BizSense was unable to reach Dozier.

Gunn said that he shut down the sites on the day the story ran.

“At the time I felt that it was a savvy move, but I removed the redirects based on the comments in the article,” said Gunn. Several comments submitted by BizSense readers suggested that his strategy could be illegal.

“I had really nothing to gain by having those sites redirected to my site other than some bad press,” Gunn said yesterday. Gunn said he removed the links before being contacted by any lawyers. However, his intention might not matter in the eyes of the court.

Ian Titley, a lawyer with the Gavin Law Offices who is representing Franko-LaFratta, said that the anti-cybersquatting law provides a range of punitive damages for each charge related to a domain name used in bad faith.

“It is not based on how much harm was done,” Titley said, meaning that Franko-LaFratta might not need to prove that customers aiming to find LaFratta’s website were, in fact, ending up at Classic Kitchen’s website. That’s probably unlikely, anyway.

LaFratta won’t need to prove it suffered damages, either, Titley said, such as customers who didn’t buy from it.

“They [Classic Kitchens] broke the rules, and there is a penalty involved,” Titley said.

Chris Gatewood
, a lawyer with Threshold PC, said that although nothing in the suit says Franko-LaFratta lost work, “that doesn’t mean it’s not a real issue. They don’t have to prove that.”

The bottom line, said Gatewood: “You can’t use [someone else’s name] to create confusion or to misdirect [a consumer] under false pretenses.”

Mark Frank, a co-founder at Franko-LaFratta, referred questions to his lawyer, adding only that “at this point it’s not appropriate to comment, but we feel like the lawsuit speaks for itself.”

Neither Frank nor Titley would comment about how much such a suit could potentially win if decided by a judge or jury, not did they share what they might be willing to settle for should the case not go that far.

Aaron Kremer is the BizSense editor. Please send news tips to [email protected]

A local contractor’s strategy to boost traffic to his company’s website might have backfired big time.

Remodeling firm Franko-LaFratta Construction was so steamed by what it says are unfair competitive practices by Classic Kitchens that it filed a complaint in U.S. District Court asking for up to $700,000 in damages and a jury trial. (You can read the complaint here. It’s not very long)

In a lawsuit filed Oct. 7, Franko-LaFratta alleges that Classic Kitchens of Virginia violated the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act in order to “intercept customers looking for Franko-LaFratta and direct them to Classic Kitchens’ website,” the suit states.

Classic Kitchens this year registered domain names such as frankoLaFratta.us, FrankoLaFratta.co, frankoLaFratta.net and directed them to its website. The lawsuit aims to collect $100,000 per web address that used Franko-LaFratta’s name.

In September, RBS reported that Classic Kitchens purchased the domains for other competitors with extensions instead of the typical “.com.” For example, www.gracestreet.biz linked to Classic Kitchens’ website, as did www.lanebuilt.net and  www.homemasons.co.

A representative of HomeMasons declined to comment, and BizSense was unable to reach someone at Lane Built. But no cases have been filed by those companies.

Matt Gunn, a vice president and co-owner at Classic Kitchens, said in September that he registered the domains to boost his search engine optimization, not to redirect customers who were trying to find his competitors. It was a small piece of his attempt to move up on Google searches, he said. You can read that story here.

When reached by phone yesterday, Gunn referred most questions to his attorney, John Dozier. BizSense was unable to reach Dozier.

Gunn said that he shut down the sites on the day the story ran.

“At the time I felt that it was a savvy move, but I removed the redirects based on the comments in the article,” said Gunn. Several comments submitted by BizSense readers suggested that his strategy could be illegal.

“I had really nothing to gain by having those sites redirected to my site other than some bad press,” Gunn said yesterday. Gunn said he removed the links before being contacted by any lawyers. However, his intention might not matter in the eyes of the court.

Ian Titley, a lawyer with the Gavin Law Offices who is representing Franko-LaFratta, said that the anti-cybersquatting law provides a range of punitive damages for each charge related to a domain name used in bad faith.

“It is not based on how much harm was done,” Titley said, meaning that Franko-LaFratta might not need to prove that customers aiming to find LaFratta’s website were, in fact, ending up at Classic Kitchen’s website. That’s probably unlikely, anyway.

LaFratta won’t need to prove it suffered damages, either, Titley said, such as customers who didn’t buy from it.

“They [Classic Kitchens] broke the rules, and there is a penalty involved,” Titley said.

Chris Gatewood
, a lawyer with Threshold PC, said that although nothing in the suit says Franko-LaFratta lost work, “that doesn’t mean it’s not a real issue. They don’t have to prove that.”

The bottom line, said Gatewood: “You can’t use [someone else’s name] to create confusion or to misdirect [a consumer] under false pretenses.”

Mark Frank, a co-founder at Franko-LaFratta, referred questions to his lawyer, adding only that “at this point it’s not appropriate to comment, but we feel like the lawsuit speaks for itself.”

Neither Frank nor Titley would comment about how much such a suit could potentially win if decided by a judge or jury, not did they share what they might be willing to settle for should the case not go that far.

Aaron Kremer is the BizSense editor. Please send news tips to [email protected]

Your subscription has expired. Renew now by choosing a subscription below!

For more informaiton, head over to your profile.

Profile


SUBSCRIBE NOW

TERMS OF SERVICE:

ALL MEMBERSHIPS RENEW AUTOMATICALLY. YOU WILL BE CHARGED FOR A 1 YEAR MEMBERSHIP RENEWAL AT THE RATE IN EFFECT AT THAT TIME UNLESS YOU CANCEL YOUR MEMBERSHIP BY LOGGING IN OR BY CONTACTING [email protected]

ALL CHARGES FOR MONTHLY OR ANNUAL MEMBERSHIPS ARE NONREFUNDABLE.

EACH MEMBERSHIP WILL ONLY FUNCTION ON UP TO 3 MACHINES. ACCOUNTS ABUSING THAT LIMIT WILL BE DISCONTINUED.




Return to Homepage

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
4 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Evan Owen
Evan Owen
11 years ago

This is a great lesson here for any small business owners leveraging the Internet for marketing purposes. I hate to see it go the route of a lawsuit though, not fun for any parties involved.

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
11 years ago

Evan – agreed. Playing with search engines can be a tricky business, especially when using tactics that haven’t worked in years. I can understand a business owner’s desire to manage their online reputation and visibility, but just like any other specialty it’s usually best left to the pros. Just like some people choose not to prepare their own taxes, represent themselves in legal proceedings, or diagnose and treat their own medical conditions.

Tim Tillman
Tim Tillman
11 years ago

I have worked for companies in the past that attempted to use this strategy and I fought their attempts to do so, explaining that it just wasn’t a good practice, and in some circles completely unethical. It’s a shame that people still think it might work.

Gardner
Gardner
11 years ago

“….it’s even highly unlikely that anyone was even redirected” This case i is the exact reason Lawyers get a bad rap. No offense, but you build a business around your name and never think to register it? It makes me wonder what other poor decisions have been made in this business. Franko-LaFratta is probably a victim of the down economy and even though this fight came to them, it seems like a desperation move and smear campaign designed by an attorney targeting a successful competitor. I hope no one ever rear ends Mr Franko or Mr. LaFratta because they’ve probably… Read more »