Thinking anyone would be foolish to try to squat on a trademarked nameplate, in 2005 the publisher of the Independent let the company’s backup Internet domain name—MissoulaIndependent.com—expire. Lo and behold, an outfit called Whois ID Theft Protection did just that, scooping up the domain in September of that year and costing the Independent several months of work and around $1,700 in legal fees to get it back.
Earlier this week the publisher of the new Kalispell-based online and weekly print newspaper Flathead Beacon, just three weeks old as of June 6, was surprised to learn from an Independent reporter that someone had registered at least seven domain names similar to his newspaper’s online address: FlatheadBeacon.com. Type missoulabeacon.com, hamiltonbeacon.com, helenabeacon.com, bitterrootbeacon.com, buttebeacon.com, billingsbeacon.com or greatfallsbeacon.com into your Web browser and you’re immediately directed to Missoula.com, the online home of the Missoulian’s new seasonal magazine of the same name.
“It is a good business strategy,” Beacon publisher Tom Donnelly says with a laugh.
Donnelly says the Flathead Beacon doesn’t plan to expand beyond the Flathead Valley, so whoever bought the domains is wasting their money.
“We’re not trying to create this multi-city conglomerate here. What we’re doing is a hyper-local regional model of news and its delivery,” Donnelly explains.
Lee Enterprises, the Missoulian’s parent company, isn’t new to the domain-grabbing game. In fact, the Independent got its domain name back after the National Arbitration Forum, the quasi-judicial panel that handles Internet domain disputes, ruled in its favor, citing in part a 2002 case involving Lee’s Billings Gazette. In 2002 Lee Enterprises won that case, in which a domain-squatting outfit registered “billingsgazzette.com” in an effort to capitalize on misspelled searches for the Billings Gazette.
Missoulian publisher John VanStrydonck was out of town and did not immediately return requests for comment; however, the domains in question were registered to the Big Fork-based TownNews.com, which is operated by the International Newspaper Network, of which Lee Newspapers is the majority shareholder.
Beacon editor Kellyn Brown isn’t too worried that readers will be confused, saying, “I think folks will be able to differentiate between us and them.”