Marchex Inc., the Seattle-based online marketing company, has been testing its own “domain-parking” program. When I took a look at some of the sites participating in the service this week, I found dozens that appear to infringe on the trademarks of major corporations, including American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Adobe Systems and 1-800 Contacts. More than 50 other sites are adult-oriented, such as adult-sex-fetishpics.com and adultxxxgalleries.com. Marchex doesn’t own the domains, but shares pay-per-click advertising revenue generated through the program with the domain owners and other online-advertising partners, such as Yahoo Inc. The “parked” sites feature text ads related to the domain name. (For a description of how domain parking works, go here.)
Ethan Caldwell, general counsel for Marchex, a public company, said the program, known as Marchex SiteBox, is in “fairly early” beta testing. He said the company doesn’t have all the controls it ultimately plans to have in place to screen names that may infringe on trademarks. He said Marchex planned to look into a list of domains I sent it, which included americannairlines.com, adobeacrobet.com and 888travelocity.com. Those three domains, and scores of similar names in the program, are owned by Digi Real Estate Foundation, which has been accused on a number of occasions of “typosquatting,” a type of cybersquatting in which famous brands are misspelled. Cybersquatting is the act of registering domains associated with the trademarks of others, and seeking to profit from it.
Caldwell pointed out that other companies offering domain owners the opportunity to “park” their domains have wrestled with similar issues. “None of the parking services are deploying an army of trademark attorneys or manually previewing domains prior to entering them” into their systems, he said. Still, he said, Marchex believes “third-party intellectual-property rights should be respected online,” and its parking program will reflect that.
Caldwell said the company also planned to take a look at its policy regarding adult names. He said Marchex has said for a long time that “adult has always been an insignificant part of Marchex’s business.” Many of the adult names in the parking program used to be owned by Marchex (more on that below).
The potentially trademark-infringing names, as well as some of the graphic adult names (which I won’t print here) appear at odds with the requirements listed on the terms-of-use page for partners in Marchex SiteBox. The page says the program requires that “none of the domain names submitted for inclusion is inappropriate, including, but not limited to, domain names that infringe intellectual property or privacy rights of others and domain names that are obscene, vulgar, pornographic or sexually explicit in nature.”
Marchex, which has about 220,000 of its own domain names, describes the parking program as invitation-only. I asked if the initial partners had gone through a vetting process, and Caldwell said they had not. He declined to comment on Digi Real Estate Foundation. When I called the phone number listed for Digi Real Estate Foundation in the domain-registration records for several of its names, I learned it was not a working phone number. An email to the address listed was not immediately returned.
Many of the adult-oriented domains in Marchex’s program are owned by Grant Media LLC, a San Francisco-based adult company run by Gary Kremen, who founded Match.com and used to run Sex.com. He was recently profiled here. Grant Media has purchased many adult-oriented domains from Marchex, which acquired them when it paid more than $160 million for the portfolio of domains owned by legendary domain investor Yun Ye. Caldwell said Marchex made a conscious decision to unload the adult names in that portfolio. (Ye’s list included tens of thousands of controversy-free generic names, such as debts.com and lasvegasvacations.com.)
Caldwell didn’t have a number at his fingertips for how many of the adult monikers had been sold to Grant Media. He said the company was close to finishing selling all of the adult domains. He declined to discuss how much money Marchex had made from the transactions. “I will tell you, once we bought these domains and we stopped monetizing them, any kind of dollar figures went way down,” he said. “Getting value was not our priority.”
Grant Media did not immediately respond to an interview request. The launch page for its sites involved in the Marchex program warns users that if they hit “enter,” they’ll see sexually explicit content.
Marchex still owns some domains, such as gettingsome.com, that might be considered “adult” by some observers. But Caldwell said such domains featured advertising mostly for personal ads and were not “adult” in nature. Other dating-oriented domains Marchex owns include extremepersonals.com, alllesbian.com, latinhookup.com, exoticmate.com, easyadultads.com and adult-comix.com.
For a list of some of the domains Marchex has discussed publicly, check out this recent press release.