Metrolink Sues Metrolinkrider.com for Domain Name and Loses

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At a Time When Transit Agencies Are Fighting For Every Dollar, Metrolink Wastes Money Suing Bloggers

This week’s LA Weekly has a fascinating expose on Metrolink’s ham-handed attempt to silence bloggers by dragging them in front of international courts.  I wish this were an April Fool’s story, but it isn’t.  The story’s author, Max Taves, abandons any pretense of objectivity slamming Metrolink as a "Paranoid Transit Agency" before we even get to the text of the piece.   After reading the story, I can’t say I blame him.

 And the story is basically this.  Desperate to shut down a website that is critical of its policies, Metrolink filed suit against Bob Arkow because his website was a violation of international copyright laws.  You see, the website’s name is MetrolinkRider.com and Metrolink claimed that people might think the site was an official
Metro message board.  Metrolink also sued for the domain metrolinksucks.com which doesn’t have a website attached to it yet, but is also owned by Arkow.  Metrolink must have a pretty low
opinion of its riders…that or members of its board and staff are
going to be shocked to hear that Kobe Bryant doesn’t spend his off days updating the links at this website.  Don’t panic Camino, Metrolink lost its case in front of the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) court earlier this month.

Despite this setback, Metrolink is sticking to their guns and refusing to apologize for what is clearly a gross violation of Arkow’s right to free speech.  According to LA Weekly:

Yet Metrolink’s Francisco Oaxaca doesn’t regret spending public money
and L.A. County lawyers’ time trying to shut down Arkow’s small sites.
He sees it as merely a trial run in silencing other bloggers and Web
sites.

“I don’t think it was a mistake,” Oaxaca says. “If we do this again,
we’ll have more information than if we hadn’t tried it, to see what is
the most effective way to protect our trademark.” He promises that
Metrolink is “considering actions against other domain-name holders.”

It must be reassuring for Metrolink passengers to hear that agency that just raised fares for the second time this year isn’t wasting money on frivolous expenses. 

Say what you want about Metro, but I could never see them tilting at windmills like this.  As a matter of fact, their press department always returns my calls and even does outreach when there’s an event they wish to promote.  I don’t think anyone that reads Streetsblog thinks I go easy on Metro as a result, but by treating each other as professionals, blogger journalists and public agencies can develop a mutually beneficial relationship.

Or you agencies and bloggers can go to war with each other and the world will be full of websites named (nameofyouragency)sucks.com.

Image: Atwater Village Newbie/Flickr 

  • Transit agencies used to attract administrators who cared about public transportation. But who wants a job where failure is the goal? Remember Reagan and the EEOC? The goal was to defang it. The carbon-auto industry wants and needs transit to suck. Who they gonna call?

  • Gargamel Tralfaz

    Is Streetsblog LA gonna get sued now?

  • It is ridiculous. I remember when I first heard about Metrolink’s reaction to Emetrolink.com (now LAPassenger.com) I was wondering when I would hear from Metro about changing the name of my blog. Luckily Metro seems rather supportive.

    What a huge waste of time and money on Metrolink’s part.

    I wonder if they should sue the St. Louis transportation agency or this Illinois transit agency?

  • Metrolink (Southern CA) is not the only Metrolink in the world. The rail transit systems of St. Louis, MO and Manchester, England also have that name.

  • Damien Newton

    There’s a couple rail systems called Metrolink around the world, as I discovered when I hit Flickr looking for an image.

    I always thought this domain name stuff was crap. Back in the early 1990’s there were a bunch of spoof sites up at domain names that made the spoof better. People Eating Tasty Animals and Joe McDonald were I believe the first groups/people to get sued under copyright and lose their domain names.

  • Just to clarify, a lawsuit was not filed against Mr. Arkow. The issue was presented to an arbitrator through a process that all domain name owners agree to go through if a trademark owner challenges their use of a trademarked name in a domain name. The arbitration process is very inexpensive and does not require retention of an attorney to defend oneself . Mr. Arkow was successful in making his case though the arbitrator in this case said that other cases have gone against the domain name owner. The arbitrator’s decision was helpful to Metrolink in that it gave us a better idea of what domain name uses we can challenge to protect our trademark. If a site is not using Metrolink’s name to generate revenue it’s probably not a problem. Even rail services that are called Metrolink are not a problem since they will never compete with each other. We have an agreement going back to the early 90’s with St. Louis’ Metrolink light rail agency to clarify our uses of the name Metrolink just to make sure we protect our trademark. We appreciate that the owner of emetrolink.com understood what we are trying to do, take actions to protect our trademark or risk losing it, and agreed to work with us and rename his site. We understand that he is looking for sponsors or may even already have some so that may have caused a problem for us. Having a trademark means the owner also has to actively protect it or someone else can challenge it and even appeal to have it cancelled. Protecting the trademark is what Metrolink is trying to do. We really don’t care what Mr. Arkow is saying on his site. He has the absolute right to express his opinion without question, as long as he gets his facts straight. We hope anyone who creates a forum to discuss Metrolink and other transit topics in our region would be responsible enough to do that.

  • tony

    What a waste of public funds. In my opinion Metrolink refuses to make public the real story on customer satisfaction. Metrolink should open their eyes and see that sooner or later their practices will backfire, we “commuters” come from a very diverse profesional community. After many years of riding we tend to rely more on each other for service delays, etc than what Metrolink can provide us. Yes, I will continue to ride Metrolink since I have no other choice for my long distance commute but will make every effort to pressure the board so that they can better serve their customers.

  • Francisco, self appointed Metrolink rep wrote:

    “We really don’t care what Mr. Arkow is saying on his site. He has the absolute right to express his opinion without question, as long as he gets his facts straight. We hope anyone who creates a forum to discuss Metrolink and other transit topics in our region would be responsible enough to do that.”

    In other words Metrolink’s suit to “protect your trademark” was an attempt to flex political muscle to quiet a critic. Fortunately domain name orgs swim in a different political pool.

  • I just cannot believe that Metrolink would try to pass this off as an attempt at discovering what they can and cannot do to protect their trademark. That would be just about the stupidest method of discovery. I’m going to go crash my bike to check the integrity of my helmet.

  • Damien Newton

    Actually, Francisco isn’t self appointed. He’s the same gentleman quoted in the article.

  • I have one word for Francisco:

    INDENT

  • Okay, a couple of more words.

    Francisco slips a little nugget into the bottom of his screed:

    “He has the absolute right to express his opinion without question, as long as he gets his facts straight.”

    Either we have the right to an opinion or we don’t. If it’s conditional (“get your facts straight!”) then we can expect to see websites getting shut down sometime soon, simply for satire, error or perhaps even blatant lies.

    But it’s not a conditional right, in fact the Washington Supreme Court has even upheld a politician’s right to tell a lie in the course of campaigning for office.

    I’m not arguing for the right to lie but I am challenging Francisco on his subtle assertion that a person’s right to express their OPINION is conditional.

    This, of course, is simply my opinion. It has not yet been vetted or challenged by the Metrolink and if it is found to be at odds with the opinions of the Metrolink, its partners, subsidiaries, staff, consultants or advisors, it is subject to challenge and possible reversal. (unlikely, improbable but entirely possible; no warranties intended and all rights reserved)

  • I am the webmaster of Metrolinkrider.com.

    Francisco is not telling you the whole truth.

    Metrolink did NOT go after Metrolink.com, a commercial site that does infringe on Metrolink’s trademark. Instead they went after me with a vengeance.

    Around the same time that Francisco sent a “cease and desist” letter to me, Metrolink had a sheriff approach me and threaten to arrest me for disorderly conduct if I refused to sign my monthly pass.

    Signing a monthly pass is a Metrolink rule, NOT a state law (fare evasion).

    In fact, I have to appear on June 3 in court to plead on yet another false charge of fare evasion.

    Oh…did I mention that when Metrolink’ lawyers (LA County Counsel) sent me their complaint to the WIPO, by certified mail, POSTAGE DUE? This is a clear violation of the California Bar rules of professional conduct.

    There are other issues as well, which in the coming months I intend to pursue and publicize.

    I used to be the greatest fan of Metrolink. As a nine year rider, I had little to complain, that is until I contacted Metrolink customer service about the Metrolink survey of 2 years ago, which on its cover said “Internal Use Only.”

    As it turns out, the survey people, who wore Metrolink badges, were really not Metrolink employees, but the employees of a private research firm. And worse yet, Metrolink failed to seed the data that they made available to this firm, thus exposing all of the passengers to the various problems associated with data theft. (Seeding data, a common practice in the list business, involves putting decoy names in the list to detect list abuse or hijacking.)

    I am conisidering other legal actions as well, such as reverse domain hijacking.

    I suspect, when you consider the filing fees, lawyer’s fees and administrative costs, Metrolink has already spent about $10,000.00.

    I thank you taxpayers and riders in advance for paying for this.

    So stay turned, there is more to come.

    Meanwhile, enjoy the fare increase!

    Robert Arkow
    bob@metroinkrider.com

  • Oh Francisco….

    You said:

    “If a site is not using Metrolink’s name to generate revenue it’s probably not a problem.”

    Then why did you go after me and not these people?

    http://www.metrolink.com

    Seems to me that they are making a buck, but they not making negative comments about Metrolink….

    Explain….

    I rest my case….

    Bob Arkow
    bob@metrolinkrider.com

  • I changed the name of EMetrolink.com to LAPassenger.com as I figured disputing the finer points of trademark law with Metrolink would distract LAPassenger.com from delivering near real time train delay and cancellation alerts to passengers’ cell phones. As stated on my website, this is our primary goal, followed by promoting ridership.

    The name change actually helped. Initially, some subscibers did think EMetrolink was part of the SCRRA, even with multiple clarifications to the contrary on my site. Changing to LAPassenger.com removed this confusion and visitors recognized us as a grass-roots passenger run website, something they wanted to become a part of. Our membership has accelerated since.

    The end game is this: the more passengers using LAPassenger.com, the faster delay and cancellation alerts will be delivered. Second, the larger our online Metrolink passenger online community becomes, the more we can collectively work to better our transit systems including Metrolink.

    I do applaud and thank bloggers like Mr. Arkow for challenging Metrolink’s motion. As a web-entrepreneur and designer, its important that the web’s legal frontier be defined by pioneers such as he. This will establish an accordable internet ripe for business, bloggers, government, and individuals.

  • Jay

    Metrolink act like gangsters, everyone should bow to them!!!!

  • STFU

    All you cry babies can drive if you don’t like public transportation.

  • STFU – i suggest you the advice encrypted in your name.

  • *stick

  • I talked to Francisco a few days ago and advised him of my question on this blog.

    Funny…he hasn’t responded.

    I wonder why?

  • A Friend

    Mr. Arkow-How does it feel to be a union officer who has been found guilty of assaulting a union transit employee?

  • “Mr. Arkow-How does it feel to be a union officer who has been found guilty of assaulting a union transit employee?”
    Perhaps “A Friend” might wish to qualify this statement?

  • Another perfect example of squandered public funds and public trust to squash
    freedom of speech and freedom of the internet,

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