The owner of a grade-school educational website says he fears he'll be run out of business by a medical marijuana website with an identical name.
Peter Vavak, the owner of Newsbowl.com, says he's concerned that grade school students will log on mistakenly to Newsbowl.org, and that instead of the current events quizzes they're looking for, they'll find information on how to buy medical marijuana and other drug paraphernalia.
Even worse, he fears, parents who see their children go to the “dot-org” site will call their teachers and cancel their subscription to his educational “dot-com” site.
"We're trying to create lifelong learners, and self-motivated learners," said Vavak, a former Nebraska middle school teacher who began News Bowl 15 years ago as a tool for teachers to foster student interest in current events. Schools that subscribe to Newsbowl.com can access weekly "Jeopardy"-style current events quizzes and a monthly "Brain Challenge," a multiple-choice school-wide and nationwide competition. Approximately 1,000 schools subscribe to the weekly tests, he said.
“In an education market, we have to be perfect,” Vavak said, explaining his concern that a controversial marijuana site that shares a name could be enough for a school to cancel its subscription.
Although “News Bowl” was trademarked when he started the company in 1995, the "org" website continues to use the name to share news and information on “legally obtained cannabis for medical purposes.” Vavak said he has not received any complaints yet, but some teachers have expressed concerns that students may go to the medical marijuana site.
"I have serious concerns that we could have young students ending up on this other website by mistake," News Bowl subscriber Tom Wagner, a social studies teacher in Pettisville, Ohio, wrote in an e-mail. "Everything that can be done to avoid our young students wandering into a possible drug-related website should be done."
Vavak said he has tried to contact the creators of Newsbowl.org when he recently discovered the existence of the site, but identity protection maneuvers have kept the website's creator’s identity a mystery.
Newsbowl.org was registered in May 2006 under a company called “Domains by Proxy, Inc.,” an Arizona-based company that registers websites for individuals to keep personal names and contact information out of the Public Interest Registry.
Vavak’s lawyer, who asked not to be named, said he has repeatedly contacted Domains by Proxy in hopes of speaking with Newsbowl.org's creators. But those attempts have all been unsuccessful, he said, due to Domains by Proxy’s policy that prohibits the release of client contact information “without express permission from the customer, except when required by law."
Since he is unable to contact Newsbowl.org's creators, the lawyer said he is seeking to prevent the medical marijuana website from being recognized by all search engines. He's sent “take down" letters to several search engines alerting them to the possible trademark infringement, as well as one to Twitter asking it to remove its “newsbowlorg” account.
“Being the owner of the trademark does give Vavak certain legal rights against others using the name – including domain names,” said Doug Isenberg, an attorney specializing in domain name disputes. But to assert his rights to the News Bowl name, Vavak would need either to file a trademark lawsuit or a complaint under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy. Either option is expensive for a small business owner; Vavak's lawyer estimated costs up to $150,000.
To Vavak, the frustration remains in his belief that his "News Bowl" name is being misused.
“We’re talking about a dichotomy of idealism here," he said. "They believe the exact opposite of what our ideals are.”