When squaring off against the Hells Angels, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson once observed that “emerging unmaimed” generally depends on “the number of heavy-handed allies you can muster in the time it takes to smash a beer bottle.” But when it comes to settling cyber disputes, it seems the notorious motorcycle club is taking a more highbrow approach. The Angels are suing two California residents, claiming they registered 22 club-related Internet domain names, and then tried to sell them on eBay. The motorcycle club says the enterprise has “damaged the goodwill associated with its marks.”
The lawsuit, filed in February, alleges that Fawn Myers and Terry Myers committed trademark infringement and cyberpiracy when they attempted to
auction off domain names associated with the Hells Angels, such as ha-mc.com and 81-mc.com. The motorcycle club owns the patent for “Hells Angels,” and according to the suit, has used “81” (“H” and “A” are the eighth and first letters in the alphabet) in commerce for decades. Though eBay stopped the auction, the suit claims that the defendants pressed on, trying to sell the names through Internet hosting service GoDaddy.com. In his defence, Terry Myers told a San Francisco newspaper there’s more to the case than what’s contained in the court file. But according to Angels lawyer Fritz Clapp, the charges are not being contested.
This is not the first time the Angels have gotten revved up about their trademarks, which, the suit says, “have acquired widespread public
recognition and … evoke strong and immediate reaction whenever they are used.” But past defendants have typically been more high profile; the Angels successfully sued Marvel in 1992 for using the club’s name in a comic book, and Disney for including it in an early script of the 2007 movie Wild Hogs. Although the motorcycle club is seeking $100,000 in damages per domain name, which is the maximum allowed under the federal cybersquatting statute, Clapp says “this is not going to be a $2.2 million case, because these people don’t have $2.2 million.” Regardless of monetary award, he says the ultimate goal of the legal action is to issue a warning to the business community: “The Hells Angels mark is not to be trifled with.”