Ever since the early days of peer-to-peer file-sharing clients, unscrupulous companies have tried to trade on the naivety of Internet users just beginning to engage with the P2P world.
For more than a decade the mode of operation employed by these companies has followed a similar pattern. Pick the most famous or popular file-sharing client of the day, use flashy websites and confusing domain names to attract users who can’t tell an imposter from the real thing, lull them in with the suggestion of free downloads, and then extract money from them.
These outfits have picked on just about every file-sharing brand out there with impunity, but now one of them is being held to account.
In a lawsuit filed this week, BitTorrent Inc. is claiming damages from a German-based company for trademark infringement, unfair competition and cybersquatting.
According to the San-Francisco based owner of uTorrent, BitTorrent Marketing GMBH is
making money from users who start out looking for BitTorrent Inc.’s products but then get “misdirected” to dozens of domains bearing similar names, all operated by BitTorrent Marketing.
Listed in the lawsuit are a sample 54 domains such as Bit-Torent.com, Bit-Torrent.com and Bitorrent.net, plus many other misspellings of the official BitTorrent brand.
Once users have visited one of these domains they wrongly presume to be operated by BitTorrent Inc., they are led down a misleading path promising media downloads.
“U.S. users who select the links on Defendant’s BitTorrent website are redirected to websites enabling them to sign up for a variety of services associated with accessing and viewing media and online content, including, among others, ultimate-downloadcenter.com and itv-dish-pro.com,” the lawsuit reads.
However, those who are eventually convinced to part with their money end up disappointed.
“Users who sign up and pay to obtain the services offered through Defendant’s BitTorrent website do not in fact receive those services. For example, after paying over $50 to sign up for ultimate-downloadcenter.com, U.S. users are redirected to third-party websites of other digital media providers, like Netflix.com and Hulu.com, and invited to sign up for membership with those services as well,” the lawsuit continues.
“Accordingly, Plaintiff is informed and believes, and based thereon alleges, that Defendant is intentionally using Plaintiff’s BitTorrent trademark to deceive U.S consumers into signing up for memberships and other ‘services’ that do not afford those users any tangible benefit, with knowledge that such conduct is a result of confusion as to whether those websites are associated with, endorsed by, or sponsored by Plaintiff.”
It appears that Bram Cohen, the inventor of BitTorrent, became aware of the people behind BitTorrent Marketing around 9 years ago. In 2003 Cohen was contacted by an individual requesting permission to register the BitTorrent.de domain name. He refused, but the company (at the time known by a different name) went ahead and started registering BitTorrent-like domains anyway, as well as the German and European trademarks for BitTorrent.
After targeting other world-famous file-sharing brands such as Azureus, Vuze, Kazaa and Morpheus, in early 2012 BitTorrent Marketing started using the BitTorrent trademark in the US through the website BitTorrent.net.
“This filing is part of a series of actions that we’ve taken since 2010 to prevent this company from using the BitTorrent brand to trick users into using a service that is not the genuine article our company provides,” a BitTorrent Inc. spokesperson told TorrentFreak.
In conclusion, BitTorrent Inc. is asking for BitTorrent Marketing to be barred from using the BitTorrent mark “or any mark confusingly similar.” They also request damages for trademark related offenses committed by their German namesake including $100,000 for each infringing domain name.