Coca-Cola caps Net name dispute with fan site

The soft drink giant decides to back away from a domain name dispute after a fan site drops its links to auction sites for Coke memorabilia.

A Net name dispute between soft drink giant Coca-Cola and a fan site started with a pop but has ended with a fizzle.

Maxistore.net, the administrator of the Vintagecocacola.com domain name, will be allowed to keep its name as long as the site is not used for commercial purposes, according to a letter sent Tuesday by Coca-Cola to the Web design firm.

The Web site originally had featured images of vintage Coke memorabilia and links to Coke merchandise auction sites, as well as to Maxistore's own Web site. But after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from Coca-Cola last month, the Web design firm pulled its original content and converted the site into a discussion board for domain name rights issues.

"Because you are no longer using our trademarks to advance your commercial interests, but are merely offering commentary, we do not object to your Web site in its current form," Coca-Cola's letter says. "As a result, the Coca-Cola Company will consider this matter closed at the present time."

The Coke dispute is only the latest in a string of battles for Net names containing trademarks. Online retailer eToys recently settled a domain name fight with art group etoy--a case that critics of an anti-cybersquatting law had watched closely, as they feared that the law would not do enough to protect small-business owners. In that case, the judge ruled in favor of the lesser-known company.

A Coca-Cola spokeswoman said that because Maxistore pulled the links to commercial Web sites not affiliated with Coca-Cola, the company did not take issue with the content on the Vintagecocacola site or with the use of the domain name.

"Our issue all along was that Vintagecocacola was using the site for commercial purposes, because they were advertising their Web design services and featuring links to auctions of Coca-Cola memorabilia," said Kari Bjorhus, the Coca-Cola spokeswoman. "We have no problem with fan sites. Once they removed those commercial aspects, we didn't have an issue with it."

Bjorhus also said that the company doesn't take issue with the Vintagecocacola domain being used as a discussion forum, because as a commentary site, it is protected under the First Amendment.

"We're comfortable with commentary; free speech is certainly important, so we can't take issue with that," she said.

Coca-Cola also doesn't take issue with a site called Boycottcoke.com, which has been championing Vintagecocacola's cause since the dispute went public. "It's not commercial in nature, so they have a right to do that," Bjorhus said.

In its letter to Maxistore, Coca-Cola said that it reserves "the right to take further action without notice" if the site links to commercial sites. Bjorhus said that it would be fine for Maxistore to post Coca-Cola memorabilia again, as long as the Web site doesn't feature links to auction sites or other commercial businesses.

But Randy Martin, who runs Maxistore with his wife and who is the domain administrator for Vintagecocacola, indicated that Coca-Cola wouldn't have to worry about the site posting commercial links or even vintage Coke content again.

"It's really not worth the trouble to change it," he said. "It's just sort of a pain in the neck now."

Martin added that ever since the dispute arose with Coca-Cola, he's lost touch with most of the senior citizens who originally sent him vintage memorabilia to post on the site, because they were scared off by the threat of a conflict with the big corporation.

"The seniors that were sending me the stuff are all heading for the hills," he said.

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