If your name were Mike Rowe and you created Web site software, the thought of an Internet site at MikeRoweSoft.com might sound like a good bet. But as a 17-year-old Canadian named Mike Rowe has found out, that bet turned out to be risky.
Redmond, Washington-based supercorporation Microsoft contacted Rowe regarding his domain name last November. After resisting Redmond’s request — made by Microsoft’s law firm in Canada — to transfer the domain to Microsoft immediately, Rowe now claims to be the victim of Microsoft’s bullying. Although some reports indicate Microsoft has threatened legal action, it appears the company has simply made a copyright claim against the Internet domain.
Yankee Group senior analyst and Microsoft observer Laura DiDio told TechNewsWorld that Microsoft is likely to look bad in the matter regardless of what the company does. However, she said she also doubts Rowe’s insistence that he did not plan to profit from publicity or a settlement over the domain.
“Microsoft’s going to look like big bullies, but the kid has to know what he was doing,” DiDio said. “Microsoft wants no publicity, because no matter what they do here, they’re going to look mean-spirited. As for the 17-year-old, I don’t think he’s as innocent as he seems. He knew what he was doing. Come on.”
As Rowe, of Vancouver, British Columbia, tells it on his site, he received an e-mail from Microsoft’s Canadian law firm on November 19, 2003. That e-mail informed him that his site was an infringement of Microsoft’s copyright and asked him to transfer the domain.
“I was baffled by this e-mail, yet thought it was funny at the same time,” Rowe said. “Microsoft was going after a 17-year-old’s part-time business that he put a lot of time into just because it has the same phonetic sound as their company.”
DiDio said Rowe — who easily could have made his site with the name “Michael” to differentiate it from Microsoft — succeeded in getting a reaction, which was likely the teen’s intention.
“I don’t know how far the real Microsoft is going to go on principle, but this is silly,” she said.
Name of the Game
DiDio said that, while similar, there are serious differences between the Rowe domain-name issue and Microsoft’s aggressive action against upstart competitor Lindows.com over its name. “[Microsoft] vigorously defended against the so-called Lindows name, but this is a 17-year-old kid,” she noted.
Rowe, who seemed to play up his position as David in battle with Goliath, said he is not willing to give up the domain because of the hard work that went into establishing it, promoting it online and making business cards for it.
“I think it is just another example of a huge corporation just trying to intimidate a small business person (and only a 17-year-old student at that) to get anything they want by using lawyers and threats,” Rowe said on his site.
When Microsoft urged transfer of the domain and Rowe resisted, the software giant reportedly offered to reimburse Rowe for his out-of-pocket expenses for registering the domain name, which amounted to US$10, according to Rowe.
Rowe then responded, described his reasons for resisting and floated the figure of at least $10,000. “They refused to give me anything more than $10, so I proceeded to ignore their most recent e-mail.”
The Canadian teen said that in correspondence sent to him last week, Microsoft accused him of setting out from the start to sell the domain to Microsoft for a large cash settlement — a charge that Rowe denies.
“This is not the case,” he wrote. “I never thought my name would cause Microsoft to take this course of action against me. I just thought it was a good name for my small part-time business.”
DiDio said Microsoft might be best served by requesting that Rowe put a disclaimer on his site, clarifying that he is not associated with the software company. She also said she suspects Rowe might be taking advantage of the anti-Microsoft sentiment that has become part of Internet culture.
“I’m not a big fan of Microsoft and some of the bullying tactics they’ve pulled,” she said, referring specifically to “what they did to Netscape.”
“On the other hand, I doubt that this is Tiny Tim. This is pretty slick.”
Microsoft spokesperson Jim Desler, who referred to trademark protection issues in the matter, told TechNewsWorld that the company hopes to work out the matter with Rowe.
“While there are trademark issues at play, I think our sentiment is to reach out to Mike and see if we can resolve it to everyone’s satisfaction,” Desler said.