Cybernaut 

Going soft on Mike Rowe

A copyright is a copyright, the law is quite clear about that. And although Victoria’s Mike Rowe – a 17-year-old who has gotten far too much media attention in the last couple of weeks – could probably make a good case for owning his own name, there’s no way any court in the world would let him keep the Web site MikeRoweSoft.com. Homonyms, words that are spelled differently but sound the same, are infringements of copyrights, too. That’s why you don’t see Seers department stores, Nyke shoes, or Koka Kola on the market anywhere.

(Actually, I did see some Noke shoes at a flea market in Turkey once, but I doubt Nike would have cared about that.)

While all can agree that copyrights have a right to be protected, there’s no question that Microsoft was a little over-zealous in their defense of the company moniker. They sent Mike Rowe a 25-page letter threatening legal action if he didn’t shut the site down. When Rowe suggested he be compensated for the loss of his Web address, Microsoft said it would only pay the 17-year-old the cost of registering his site. Rowe estimated that the site was worth about $10,000. Microsoft offered $10.

Word got out that a teenager was standing up to Microsoft and it quickly became clear just how many enemies Bill Gates’ company has made over the years. When MikeRoweSoft.com couldn’t handle the amount of traffic it was getting, companies and individuals stepped forward to host the site for free. Others offered to cover Rowe’s legal costs, encouraging him to take on Microsoft in court. Still others threw a little business Rowe’s way, paying him to develop their Web sites.

Everywhere in the media the pundits were appalled by the way the biggest software company and richest man in the world were going after a plucky young entrepreneur who did something clever with his name.

So Microsoft backed down. The public relations side of the business, which should have been called in before the lawyers in the first place, admitted the company was a little overzealous.

One company spokesperson commented "We take our trademark seriously, but in this case maybe a little too seriously. That said, we appreciate that Mike Rowe is a young entrepreneur who came up with a creative domain name."

Last week Mike Rowe and Microsoft came to an agreement.

Microsoft said it would cover Mike’s cost of registering a new site, and would redirect traffic from the old site. Microsoft also agreed to pay for Microsoft Certification Training, gave Rowe an Xbox game console, and invited Rowe to company headquarters in Redmond, Washington for their March technology festival.

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