In the fall of 2009, I was two years out of college, living in Washington, D.C. trying to “make it” as a writer. I started a blog called “Bergdorf Goodwill” in November, with a focus on taking popular menswear items at the time—like Red Wing Boots—and highlighting what other brands were ripping them off. I designed it over a single weekend in Wordpress and I remember it looking pretty shitty. Two days later, I received an e-mail from a lawyer with the subject: “Unlawful Registration of Internet Domain Name bergdorfgoodwill.com.”
Naturally, I kind of freaked out. Because one: Neiman Marcus (Bergdorf’s parent company) was totally aware of my newfangled blog thing, and two: they wanted to sue me for it. Now, let’s get some things straight. By no means was I cybersquatting—the process in which doucheturds buy domains in the hope of selling them later on. I already had a few posts up, so I was clearly churning out content and not hoping to make a quick and sleazy buck.
Besides, during the time I spent in my Journalism Law class, I learned about things like ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which as a last resort, can resolve domain name disputes between parties for a fee. I also learned a thing or two about intellectual property infringement. In a nutshell, the onus is on the accusing party to prove three main things. I had to:
1. Have a “confusingly similar” domain to their trademark.
2. Have no “legitimate right” to use the domain I chose.
3. Act in “bad faith” and be an ill dickhead that was simply trying to sell them the domain.
I had a month or so to respond to the letter. So, being a nerd, I sequestered myself in my room and did a bunch of research. I discovered I wasn’t the only person they did this sort of stuff to. Upon closer reading, I saw that the letter also referenced the URL “www.bergdorfhoodman.com.”
I did some digging about the domain and discovered that before he was slinging baos and making cooking shows Eddie Huang ran a streetwear brand called Hoodman that tried to rebrand itself as “Bergdorf Hoodman” in 2009. In his case, “bergdorfhoodman” is a pretty common typo of “bergdorfgoodman” on a QWERTY keyboard, so he had more to prove than I did. Plus, he was competing in the same field as Neiman Marcus, albeit in an entirely different market.
According to a 2009 HipHopDX article, Huang said it took “like three, four days” for them to get a cease and desist. He believed that Bergdorf Goodman’s litigation team “are watching domains all day long.” I asked him for advice, and he hit me with the numbers. It would cost at least $5,000 to hire a lawyer and fight the damn thing. Huang claimed that Hoodman was the first brand to make Obama tees (here is a BET video of him showing off the gear), and that meant brisk sales for them. But when it came to the domain, he didn’t think it was worth fighting over.
“We would have won the case, but I didn't want to spend the money to fight. I would rather just give them the domain cause they didn't sue me over my business,” he said, and was willing to offer me recommendations for litigation.
In the end, I ended up contacting my college journalism law professor who was also an attorney who specializes in First Amendment law and intellectual property issues. As I understand it, most people that get a cease and desist don’t have the same kind of fortune that I lucked into.
With his help—and what I imagine to be total surprise that I was actually applying some of the stuff he had taught me in class—I was able to come to an amicable conclusion with Bergdorf Goodman’s legal team. Now, if you go to www.bergdorfgoodwill.com it currently forwards to Bergdorf Goodman’s main site. Seriously test that shit out, bro.
No, I didn’t sell it for millions, but I did manage to learn a few things about intellectual property law and domain names. Namely, that dealing with litigation is annoying as fuck and I would prefer not to have to go through that again.