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]