Cyber squatting? Perhaps. But Greg Graber and Sal Shefsky prefer to think of themselves as defenders of American freedom. These two owners of the website "www.memphisgrizzlies.org" have hired Bruce Kramer, a well-known first amendment lawyer who frequently represents the ACLU, to advocate for them againstnone other than the National Basketball Association (NBA).
In May of this year and after a few too many beers the old friends decided to register a website dedicated to poking fun at the media circus surrounding Memphis' bid for an NBA team. As "www.memphisgirzzlies.com" and "www.memphisgrizzlies.net" were already taken, the buddies registered "www.memphisgrizzlies.org" and the real circus began.
Having now been featured on the websites for the New York Times, ESPN, Excite, and Yahoo; on radio shows in Florida, Ohio, New York, and locally on Rock 103, 94.1 The Buzz and on George Lapides' sports talk radio program - as well as in print in the Commercial Appeal and on the Associated Press - and now the Flyer - the two high school chums have found themselves at the center of a media maelstrom.
Earlier this summer Graber received via certified mail a letter dated July 19 from Ayala Deutsch, senior intellectual property counsel for the NBA, a letter demanding transfer of ownership of the .org site from Graber to the NBA. The letter reads in part:
"Your registration, use and offer for sale of the domain name www.memphisgrizzlies.org constitutes trademark infringement, trademark dilution and unfair competition. Accordingly, we demand that you take all steps necessary to transfer to NBA Media Ventures the www.memphisgrizzlies.org domain name."
"At this point we feel it is a freedom of speech issue," says Graber. "It's a David and Goliath story and we hope to reach an amicable agreement with the NBA. But if they want to buy the site from us, then we expect to be fairly compensated."
With that in mind, Kramer, on behalf of Greg and Sal, sent a letter back to the NBA on August 20. This letter reads in part:
" it is our opinion that the demands and claims of NBA Properties, Inc. are unwarranted and without merit as www.memphisgrizzlies.org is not infringing upon any valid name, mark or protected property right of NBA Properties, Inc.
"Therefore the demand to transfer the domain name is respectfully declined. Our client has no intention of abandoning its use of the domain name www.memphisgrizzlies.org or to curtail their protected First Amendment rights to parody and satire and to conduct an internet and interest."
Where Greg and Sal will go from here remains to be seen, but regardless of where that may be, they won't be going quietly.