Monday, November 08, 2004
Fantasy baseball site plays hard ball
A Roanoke Web site owner sues another site owner in Pennsylvania, claiming infringement on his site.
Competition is heating up in fantasy baseball league land.
Roanoke resident Ron Shandler runs a popular Web site called BaseballHQ.com. The interactive site provides statistical analysis, player projections and minor-league scouting for fantasy baseball participants. There are also interactive tools, games and strategies.
Shandler's expertise has become so well-known in the world of baseball that he has been recruited as an adviser to the St. Louis Cardinals, who recently lost to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. More than 5,000 people from across the United States and 30 foreign countries are paid subscribers on his Web site, and there are more than 80,000 visits to the site each month.
But Shandler, 46, is worried that someone else is trying to represent that he is affiliated with Shandler's expertise.
Shandler filed a federal lawsuit against a Pennsylvania man last week, claiming that Robert Burghardt has tried to falsely associate himself with Shandler's site by starting and operating a Web site with a similar domain name - FantasyBase- ballHeadquarters.com.
Shandler claims that Burghardt has infringed on Shandler's brand and services by using a domain name and services on his Web site that are "confusingly similar" to features of Shandler's site. He argued that Burghardt's site could cause irreparable damage to his business reputation, according to the lawsuit.
Millions of sports fans participate in fantasy baseball or "rotisserie" leagues, such as those available on Shandler's Web site. Participants can draft or auction players, with standings based on their statistics on Web sites like Shandler's.
He is claiming infringement and cyberpiracy and wants Burghardt to turn over ownership of his Web site's domain name.
Roanoke attorney David Tenzer said lawsuits that involve disputes over domain names, which are addresses on the Internet, are fairly rare in this area, though not around the rest of the country.
Disputes over domain names is where traditional trademark law crosses into cyberlaw, he said.
Such disputes are typically mediated by an international nonprofit corporation called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which manages the allocation of domain names on the Internet.
If the disputes can't be resolved there, parties do sometimes file federal lawsuits, particularly if there are commercial interests involved, Tenzer said. The party that files the case must demonstrate the defendant acted in bad faith, he said.
Shandler said in a phone interview that he learned of the existence of Burghardt's Web site when several readers e-mailed him because they came across FantasyBase- ballHeadquarters.com when they were looking for Shandler's site. Shandler said they wanted to know if he was affiliated with that site.
The content on Burghardt's site is "almost identical" to the content on Shandler's site, except the quality is lower, Shandler said. Shandler said his lawyer had contacted Burghardt's company to try to work out the issue.
"They've basically responded that they don't think there's any conflict at all and they weren't going to take their site down," Shandler said.
A woman who answered the phone at Burghardt's home said she would relay a message to him, but he did not return a call for comment.
"We just want them to take the site down and turn the URL over to us," Shandler said.