I have had the supreme displeasure in recent days of running across a “gentleman” by the name of Mr. William Lyne. Mr. Lyne—”Willie” for these purposes—demonstrates for us how belligerent stupidity can sometimes emerge victorious over reasoned argument and thought, and how a man with shameless ignorance of law and reason can force a clear-thinking individual to succumb to his delusions.
Let me explain.
Willie is a conspiracy theorist, and not the brightest of conspiracy theorists at that. He has published a handful of books—mostly only available in Europe—with titles like “Pentagon Aliens” and “Occult Ether Physics”. Still with me? He also claims to have quite a bit of education—a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Art and Industrial Technology from Sam Houston State University and a Masters of Fine Arts degree in studio arts from the University of Texas—and he is currently somewhere over the age of 50 (it’s hard to pinpoint his exact age from information available on the internet). To quote from the man, “I was a practicing artist until my life was smashed by Pentagon madmen.”
But, would an artist produce a website like his? Take a click and see what you think—but be warned, you will be barraged with poor taste, rambling nonsensical prose, pop-ups, and a midi music file of the X-Files theme. I used to think that music on a website was about the tackiest thing on the internet, but then I saw the rest of Willie’s site. The text is dark on a dark background, the background is cluttered which would make the text hard to read no matter what the color, and there’s no order or logic to its presentation.
Now, I don’t particularly care if a conspiracy theorist with a master’s degree wants to claim that UFO’s are creations of the Pentagon and label his seedy, poorly designed Tripod website “Pentagon Space Aliens”. Whatever floats your boat, I guess. But the way this man weaseled into the corner of my life can be found at the bottom of his page where he claims ownership of the trademark “Creatopia” and “Creatopia Productions.” For those who are woefully unaware of the people and websites in my life, “Creatopia” was until recently the name of my girlfriend, Melissa’s, website. Willie Lyne wrote to her, demanding that she rename her site because it violated his supposed trademark, and adamantly ignoring all legal reason until Melissa finally changed the name.
While Willie claims he came up with the word in the 1970’s, the earliest recorded example of it that any of us can find was on one of his books in 1993. Regardless, when Melissa came up with the word independently in 1997 a comprehensive search of the internet turned up no other references and a look through the Patent and Trademark Office database turned up nothing. No reasonable person could expect Melissa to have known about Willie’s Creatopia Productions, and no reasonable person would confuse the two. But, moving on, at some point since both Melissa and Willie have used the name, a company named ThinkBox Media, LLC actually registered the trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Now, Melissa—operating a personal website that could in no way be confused with either the products of Thinkbox Media or the ramblings of Willie Lyne—was operating perfectly within the boundaries of trademark law no matter who legally owns the trademark. Her website has simply caused no harm to any business that makes use of the word “Creatopia”, and had all the recent craziness led to a lawsuit this fact would have been a key part of the ruling in Melissa’s favor. But today, Melissa’s website is not named Creatopia, and we must look at why she chose to give in to the arguably illegal claims of a conspiracy theorist with no web-design sense who lives in New Mexico.
The problem lies in how expensive justice is in the United States. To put it lightly, justice is exorbitantly costly here. While no court in its right mind would ever rule in favor of Willie in a hypothetical misappropriation of trademark case against Melissa, the mere cost of that hypothetical case—regardless of whether or not Melissa would win—compelled her to change the website’s name. In other words, the person who was right under the law gave in to the person who was wrong under the law because it would be too expensive to prove she was right in a court of law.
In this particular case, you can add the cost of air fare to New Mexico to the cost of the lawyers and court fees themselves (although, in the land of the internet, you could make a logical argument that the trial should happen here in Northern Virginia).
But nobody should have to give in—and nobody should have to pay a fortune—every time some loon out there on the web decides that you’re violating his or her intellectual property rights. I could make a million arguments about how wrong this guy is—not the least of which being that somebody else registered his supposed trademark and he never even bothered to contest it—but no matter how off-base he may be, if he brought a lawsuit against Melissa she would have had to spend a fortune fighting it. That’s sad, nobody in the right should ever have to give in to somebody so clearly in the wrong.
The prohibitive costs of lawsuits puts them out of reach for most people, and so—barring criminal proceedings (brought by the state)—people have little recourse when they are wronged. But more importantly, when people are wrongly accused in the civil court system they have no way to defend themselves without incurring huge costs. That disturbs me, because what’s to keep any wacko with a little cash from suing me and winning—even if they lose—by irreconcilably destroying my financial situation?
Willie, if he ever reads this, will probably tell me I’m a part of a conspiracy. He’s already accused Melissa and me of being in cahoots with this ThinkBox Media company, even though it’s based in California and has no logical connection to us whatsoever. He’ll probably say this time that I’m working for whatever government agencies and internet companies he thinks are trying to silence him (“YAHOO AND THE CIA ARE LOVERS,” he says). That’s exactly the kind of behavior that would get him laughed out of any court room, whether he were to sue Melissa for using “Creatopia” or to sue me for expressing my opinions about him (it’s a First Amendment thing, Willie—so sorry!).
So bring it on, sue me, but seeing as how I’m writing this in Virginia the laws of Virginia are the ones that apply. The Fairfax County Court House is only 10 minutes from my apartment, and a Public Administration major like myself who’s taken a couple of courses in law will have no trouble fending off any further baseless accusations that William Lyne is sure to try and make. This whole debacle over Melissa’s website—while it didn’t lead to litigation or massive expense—does raise questions about the costs associated with court, and leaves us wondering why one ignorant man with a junky website and a couple conspiracy theory books can force somebody on the other side the country to adjust their behavior with nothing more the credible threat of a frivolous lawsuit.
Willie may chalk Melissa’s and my frustration up to “youthful disappointment” over her website needing to be renamed—”that’s the way the ‘grown up’ world operates,” he says—but rather we are frustrated by the immature behavior we see in this man who is indeed many years our senior. We have been living in the “real world”—working real jobs as web developers, helpdesk specialists, and media relations specialists—where issues relating to intellectual property like copyright and trademark aren’t just the echoes in Willie’s head but the day-to-day issues that we deal with. Our “real world” is based on fact and reality, and I’ll take that over his “Pentagon Space Aliens” any day.