Though Comcast loves to slap its various brand names over everything it can, the company is apparently none too happy that net neutrality advocates have invoked the Comcast name in their efforts to find out who is behind a trove of fake anti-neutrality comments filed with the FCC.
Although the official comment period just opened this week, the docket already has about 2.6 million filings in it, reaching back to when it was first announced in April. Many of those are from individuals using their own words. Many more are form letters sent by folks who visited various organizations’ and coalitions’ one-stop-shop websites to help them comment (both groups for and against preserving net neutrality use these).
But this time around, an estimated half million or so of those comments come from a botnet using stolen identities to spam identical anti-neutrality text.
Advocacy group Fight for the Future — one of the ones in favor of preserving net neutrality — wanted to know more about this bot campaign, and to help people find out if comments they didn’t agree with had been submitted under their names. So they set up a website, Comcastroturf, with an explanation about the bot, an explanation of what they’re looking for, and a tool that lets people easily check the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) for their names.
Comcast, however, highly objects to having its name used in this particular way. Fight for the Future announced that the company sent a legal threat over the domain name — one that Fight for the Future has no intention of listening to.
The request comes not from Comcast directly, but from a “cyber threat analyst” at a third party “cyber solutions” entity, and it claims that the URL infringes Comcast’s intellectual property rights.
“Our client, one of the world’s leading media, entertainment and communications companies, has rights in the trademark COMCAST and/or XFINITY,” the letter says, giving all the various trademark numbers that apply.
Under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, the letter says, you’re prohibited from “Registering, trafficking in, or using domain names that are identical or confusingly similar to a protected distinctive mark.”
Comcast’s IP protector seems to think “Comcastroturf” is similar enough to Comcast’s existing trademarks that it qualifies under that law and a few others.
“This letter shall serve as our client’s formal and final notification that your client is violating Comcast’s valuable intellectual property rights,” it concludes. “Please … take all steps necessary to see that the Domain name is assigned to Comcast. Please confirm in writing within ten days of receiving this correspondence that such action will be taken.”
Such action, Fight for the Future says, will not be taken.
The letter finishes by making its terms clear: “Our client is prepared to resolve this matter amicably and without pursuing its claims for damages,” it reads, “but only if you immediately comply with its demands.”
In other words, it says we’ll let this go without a lawsuit, but you have to sell us the domain name now and stop using it.
Fight for the Future, however, was prepared. “These claims are legally baseless, since the site is clearly a form of First Amendment protected political speech and makes no attempt to impersonate Comcast,” the organization says. Its campaign director, Evan Greer, was even more pointed in her statement.
“This is exactly why we need Title II net neutrality protections that ban blocking, throttling, and censorship,” Greer said. “If Ajit Pai’s plan is enacted, there would be nothing preventing Comcast from simply blocking sites like Comcastroturf.com that are critical of their corporate policies. It also makes you wonder what Comcast is so afraid of? Are their lobbying dollars funding the astroturfing effort flooding the FCC with fake comments that we are encouraging Internet users to investigate?”
At this point it is still unknown who is behind the comment bots. There is no evidence tying the campaign to Comcast — or, for now, to anyone else. One of the key things Fight for the Future is doing with its campaign is trying to help gather evidence to find that out.
In a statement to the Daily Dot, Comcast defended the letter but backed off of the threat.
“Like most major brand owners, Comcast protects our company and brand names from being used improperly on the internet by third parties,” Comcast says. (This is true. Even completely silly .horse sites are vulnerable.)
“We use an established outside vendor to monitor for websites that use our name and brands without authorization, and the vendor routinely sends out notices to those sites. That is what happened here.”
However, Comcast concludes, “after reviewing the site further, we do not plan additional action at this time.”
In the meantime, if a robot has not already pretended to be you (or in fact even if one has), here’s how you can leave your own comment telling the FCC what you think about net neutrality.