Follow-up Post to: Brains behind McCain’s flop now targeting domain industry
Some interesting developments have transpired since my last post regarding the legal dispute between billionaire former Ebay CEO and McCain Campaign co-Chairman Meg Whitman, and Thomas Hall the 50 year-old California resident whose registration of five domain names related to Whitman set off a firestorm of lawsuits that carry with them the potential to adversely effect the entire domain industry.
It appears now that Whitman has purchased or otherwise acquired the domain names being sought. However, I have been unable to confirm this, and there remains the potential that the basis for this conclusion is misleading and/or outright inaccurate. Allow me to explain:
A recent search of the WHOIS contact information for the domains in limbo (megwhitmanforgovernor.com, whitmanforgovernor.com, whitman2010.com, meg2010.com and megwhitman2010.com) showed Meg Whitman as the owner of all five domains she had been attempting to acquire from Hall. However, at least one of the domains had something to the effect of ‘Meg Whitman for Governor in 2010′ listed as the name’s registrant, as opposed to simply ‘Meg Whitman’, as read the WHOIS data for the other four domains.
I know I don’t recall seeing any follow-up to this story in my Google Alerts, nor did a search of Google News turn up anything relevant (as of the time I conducted the research). At first, I admit I was surprised to learn that the WHOIS records for the five names had been modified (an nobody bothered to tell me about it!). However, if in fact Whitman & co. eventually figured out that it would be far more cost-effective to simply buy the domain names than to continue attempting to acquire them via court intervention, it would make sense that Whitman’s camp would request that the deal be done silently without notifying the media so as to try their best to avoid reliving the public relations nightmare resulting from the original suit.
Were Whitman to push forward with a suit, she would at best continue to be seen as a bully. At worst, her behavior has drawn the ire of Republican-leaning voters (Whitman is a Republican) by her appearance on the wrong site of the ‘private sector-capitalism vs. government intervention’ issue in a high-profile lawsuit. Actions speak louder than words, and Whitman will no doubt be campaigning on her private sector experience when the 2010 campaign for governor of California heats up. If anyone in her periphery is even minimally competent, this potential hypocrisy would undoubtedly have been brought to her attention.
If indeed the above-described scenario or something close to it played out, than Thomas Hall is quite likely a far-wealthier man today than he was mid-February. However, the WHOIS data and the absence of any coverage or follow-up story do not constitute proof that the domain changed hands.
I wouldn’t be altogether shocked to learn sometime down the road that Hall had merely modified the WHOIS contact data to show Whitman as the registrant without actually transferring the domain to an account with the registrar that is under her control. It’s a tactic that I think could actually work if dealing with people that don’t know that they’re doing.
Consider this: Whitman didn’t own MegWhitman.com until 2003. She didn’t began to take any interest in the five registered by Hall until he registered them following her announcement about running for governor. Now, consider that the domain name MegWhitmanSucks.com has been registered since May 03, 1999 by someone out of Pennsylvania (according to WHOIS contact data). That means that five years before Meg Whitman owned MegWhitman.com, somebody else owned MegWhitmanSucks.com and has held onto it for a decade with roughly two years remaining on its current registration.
All that said, if I were Thomas Hall and Whitman refused to back away from her lawsuit, I’d probably try changing the WHOIS contact records and presenting it to her attorneys as “proof” that I had complied with their demands, and that the issue was settled. I figure it’s worth a shot. She was CEO of one of the internet’s largest and most esteemed companies for what seems like the entirety of the modern internet, yet she failed to make the connection between registering domain names, websites and politics. Go figure.
You might think it’s a stupid idea, but if you’re going to get sued one way or another and you can’t afford representation, it seems to me anyway that this technique would be at least worth a shot (changing WHOIS data while maintaining control of the domain, nameservers, etc.) Unless she actually planned to develop or at least forward the domains, it doesn’t seem altogether unfathomable that such a ploy could work if the offensive party was technically ignorant to the processes involved. What really have you got to lose in that scenario if you’re Thomas Hall?
The strange thing is how widely reported on this story was until about two weeks before the date the WHOIS records were modified. After that, it seemingly fell off the map with no explanation other than the unreliable WHOIS record.
Since Whitman has since my last posting confirmed that she is running governor of California, my instinct is to assume that the billionaire somehow figured out a way to reach an agreement on a price for 5 domain names registered by a guy who claims to be unable to afford an attorney. That said, I’ve yet to receive confirmation of this from either party (nor a third party), and until such confirmation arrives, I’ll refrain from declaring the case closed.
If I come upon any new, credible information about why this story seemingly vanished with no follow-up that I could find, I will be sure to publish it here at blog.fatlester.com. However, any future posts on this subject will be much, much shorter than these past two.
The original post concerning Meg Whitman’s domain name dispute can be found here.