German Radio and TV against the net: The fight about



Brandnames strike real names - had to change to and to drop the contact information

Something unthinkable to international law and clearly against ICANN policy happened to us, as we are international (a German, an American), but living in Germany:

I am a journalist, having written technical and other articles since 1975. The initials of my real name match those of a local German radio station. They already have their own .de-domain, but now they want all international domains too. Like (formerly owned by Swiss-American bank Warburg Dillon Read), (which was mine and was registered by a Swiss organisation when I was forced to release it) or . You see, domain fights are big and easy money nowadays in Germany. They already are sueing Swiss citiziens too ( and are Swiss domains under German fire!) and they will take over more domains in use by others worldwide now.

Our domain was based on my initials, which I used like every journalist. In my case für 25 years, and 5 years on the net. In radio, my abbreviation was understandably never used, rather in print media (newspapers, magazines, books) and on the net. The similarity of the abbreviations for the broadcaster and the author had not caused problems in the past and the abbrevaition was never used as a company name.

The aforementioned broadcaster suddenly sent a cease and decist letter accusing me of pulling serious business advantages and enticing their customers away from their web site to mine. I knew this was not so - what should I do with radio and television viewers anyway? I do not offer a program guide here. And every false hit on my website costs me money - I do not use a cheap ISP, rather a professional provider (Speedlink), charging a known limit on traffic. I did not have any advertising banners - journalists should remain independent. And I am also not a publisher. That anyone could actually confuse the "TV program with the Mouse" (popular German kid show made by the station in question) with a contract to produce a website or a technical article is also hardly believable. In the search engines we emerged well after the broadcaster, if someone searched for the abbreviation. Of course we showed up in front of them when someone was looking for my full personal name "Wolf-Dieter Roth" In 1 ½ years there was only one confused visitor, and that was only due to his not being fluent in German or English. Also we have never used the three letters as a trademark nor as a company name - only as an abbreviation under articles or e-mail, and of course as part of our email addresses, because that was why we had the domain in the first place: normal internet service providers had been unreliable in the past and delivered our personal mails to other customers.

Radio and TV against the net: They want to get rid of it!

But the court decided that it is right for that radio station to take over all different top level domains and that I am not allowed to use my name anymore, as brand law in Germany now strikes name law (it was not like that in the past, or we would not have chosen a name-based domain in the fist place). If I do not agree, it would cost $ 250,000 each time. Even star journalists do not make enough money for that. :-( Even with giving up, I still had to pay $ 20.000 to the lawyers and the cologne court who also threatened me to go up to $ 1.000.000 if I would ever end up there again. Which is likely as I tried to move to and was told then that any domain worldwide will be under attack from Westdeutscher Rundfunk if it contains the three letters "wdr" in a row - e.g. like or of course Indeed this broadcaster had applied for its abbreviation as a trademark first in 1979, but it has this name for 40 years - and myself 38. End of discussion.

We decided to use my personal ham radio callsign as a domain name now, as that at least is internationally coordinated, so noone would be able to sue me on it, which I would not be sure when trying to use any part of my name. The officials agreed on it - so here we are now as We still act international, but as we have to obey local laws anyway instead of ICANN, we will not apply for an international domain any more.

When the decision was made to use the ham radio call sign, we did not know that westdeutscher Rundfunk would even see this hobby acitivity as a commercial competition to their business. That is clearly against international law, as amateur radio is noncommercial by definition. But the cologne court did not care. And people at Westdeutscher Rundfunk are known for hating ham radio and thus are very happy about that decision. :-(

We also had a "just in case" help link to the broadcaster for "lost surfers" - and exactly this warning was used as a ground for the court injunction. Means: because we were nice enough to set a link to them, we get accused of causing confusion and our domain and thus mail gets hijacked Therefore we deliberately removed our recommendation for the broadcaster's job directory. When a thoughtful link for lost surfers has such consequences, how will the revenge for praise look like??

Particularly aggravating: this broadcaster was famous in the past thanks to merited colleagues like Jean Pütz (Hobbythek), Wolfgang Back (Computer-Club) or Jörg Schieb (Windows expert and technical writer), and has thrown their reputations away. Yes, when its about making money and having more rights, then the broadcaster has no more interest in its reputation. .org is certainly for nonprofit as well as individuals. So I thought. But Westdeutscher Rundfunk wants everything. They say they are not commercial but they simply went after everything and even brought Swiss-American bank Warburg Dillon Read to their knees having to hand over their former domain So well, Westdeutscher Rundfunk wants to be commercial and expand its business worldwide (why else do they need a .com domain?) but are financed by fees of $18 a month drawn from every German owning a TV.

A totally needless battle

The system of top level domains were created exactly so that such collisions would not happen. is not the same as It is a pure address system and was not intended for trademarks - one can not register a domain name as a trademark in Germany.

Suddenly comes the valid right that Müller Incorporated can forbid Hans Müller his name, because Müller Inc. has all the rights to all names that contain Müller. Hans must therefore transfer his name. No joke, it happened with, where Dr. Shell had bought the domain as the oil company did not want it but then was sued by them later. Or perhaps the City of Munich would suddenly forbid the City of Buchloe the streetname Bergstrasse, because there is also a street called Bergstrasse in Munich. For someone might get confused searching for a Munich firm in Buchloe, and they might get a business advantage from the similarities of their name. Now a Berg Inc. or a Mr. Berg can take all the numerous Bergstrassen in German cities? Or a company in Cologne hijacking a Munich company's phone number for being too similar? No kidding, this already has happened in Germany: a perfume manufacturer from Cologne (again! Something in the water there?) "collected" the phone number 4711 from a cab owner in Berlin claiming his trademark on the numbers 4711!

New top level domains such as .eu and .info are totally worthless: it should rather be that different companies exist alongside each other. It seems one can just lie in wait until one such domain has started to do well, then spark a legal battle in millions of marks. Just to cash in on the domain and pour it back into the money pool.

Every violation of the court order costs 500,000 marks. The use of a court injunction was a popular club in the fight against AOL advertising - but even AOL only had to pay 100,000 marks for every violation. The order forbids the use of my org address, especially 'in business use with technical journalism, public relations, web design, the arts and contact', says the court injunction from Cologne. The protection order of my attorney, that would prevent the injunction and minimize this disaster, was unread by the court. In this area, the court clearly preferred the local heavyweight.

Personal mail goes to someone else within 24 hours

Obviously we are in great financial danger from this public broadcaster. It is truly absurd that I am an employee in journalism, the broadcaster is an employer, and in all areas there is absolutely no competition. Another interesting lie promoted by the court injunction - the German word 'Kontakte' (contacts in english) has a secondary meaning of 'escort business' or 'prostitution'. The court decision forbid an escort business on our webpage. Before one makes assumptions - we must explain that we never had an escort business, rather a harmless address and phone number to 'contact' us by. On the website the context is clear, but apparently the court decided upon another association. Oh well. It also is the reason why we do not have our contact information on thesite anymore, although that is normally a must in Germany. But we do not want to risk the $ 250.000 fine.

The right for privacy and secrecy of mail is in the German constitution. But with the bad addon: "except when another law superrules this". Unluckily German brand law is powerful enough. Total nuts: to supervise terrorist's conversations is difficult in Germany but harmless but still private mails between an American and her mother can be easily not only listened in but quite frankly cashed in by German brand law.

As having our address on the website was also forbidden by the Cologne court - although an address is necessary due to other German laws, so we put Westdeutscher Rundfunk in there - you can only contact us through the guest book on the contact page now.

Of course Westdeutscher Rundfunk refused to use WIPO as our domain was in accordance with the international ICANN rules but Germany wants to get rid of ICANN. My case was just to make more lawsuits possible like the one where another German radio statio deutsche Welle went after an American software company. Thankfully they lost this time, but only because the software company had registered their trademark in the US a week before deutsche Welle did! And a lot of totally useless cases were started afterwards based on the court decision against me. Really, Germany is the worst place in the world to have a website!

In fact I had already experienced how bad a domain transfer can be. As was originally used by a big bank house - Swiss-American bank Warburg Dillon Read - a lot of people including the employees themselves still had mail addresses with stored. The result was me getting a lot of internal mail, from jokes to 20 MB fat video attachments and top secret stuff like a mail from the Seattle police informing about their strategy to avoid riots at the G7 meeting. Also I have to forward around 700 mails a week that come in on different addresses at to avoid an unfriendly takeover of that one as well.

Why is that radio station so aggressive?

They realize that they lose a lot of listeners and viewers to the net.So they are against it. Especially the idea that everyone may publish on his webpage and does not have to go after them anymore scares them like hell!

As a journalist I live of information and secure privacy. The fact, that someone can just collect all my mail within less than three days is a serious problem! In fact, if I would have used WDR as a company name, which sure would have been asking for trouble, the rsults would have been much less fatal. That's why they go after addresses now instead of company names: the resulting damage is much bigger!

In fact what happened to me was not the end, not the worst: just the beginning. It was made so rude to make reverse domain hijacking legal in Germany and to help big corporations in active censorship. One case where my desaster was used in later was multinational oil company Total Fina Elf going after a Greenpeace protest site called pretending that just because part of their name being in that protest site's title was enough to have Greenpeace hand over the domain in 24 hours. And yes, the court agreed on that! :-( luckily though the higher instance did not agree. But the highest instance in Germany was not involved yet and what they think about domain rights has been seen in the case of :-(((

If you read this posting of the lawyer of DeNIC (the German NIC) you can really be scared: he claims the German courts to be an efficient way to settle out domain fights. Oh my! Efficient, yes, right. Always making sure that a domain has to be released and transferred and ruining the private people in favour of big greedy corporations! remember, there is no such thing as "freedom of speech" in Germany. It is not part of the constitution like in the US.

They want to censor and hijack personal mail, they want to shut down the democratic aspects of the internet. In my case I was even told, I should correspond with snail mail, phone and fax "like normal people do" instead of email. Why the heck does a radio station tell me how to communicate!? I do not ask them to send me a letter instead of talking bulls**t on air either! Just because they do not like and do not use email does not mean they have a right to forbid me to use it! But well, lawyers rarely use email themselves so the do not care.

Buchloe, 1.4.2000 (sorry, no april fools joke!!)




...and if you want to know more about the German link desaster, look here: Freedom for Links

Important legal notice: This website is a mouse free zone, as die Maus ("the mouse" also is a registered trademark of Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Cologne! We do not know how high the license fees are that Apple, Microsoft and Disney are paying to Westdeutscher Rundfunk, but just to be safe we recommend alternative tools like a trackball or a touchpad for navigating on this site. Btw: Westdeutscher Rundfunk also registered the word "Monitor" as a trademark... :-(

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