When I got sued by GM and screwed by Godaddy

When I first heard of the “Chevy Volt” I went on Godaddy and bought the domain name “chevyvolt.org” — I would have bought “chevyvolt.com”, but it wasn’t available. GM had already bought it.

I worked on chevyvolt.org for almost two years, as a fan site, adding content to it and creating a robust site that became the 5th result on google search for “chevy volt”.

The site featured a single google ad, that netted me about $30 a day in revenue (about $10,000 a year). I also maintained a facebook group for the site that has over 1500 members.

Sometime late 2010, I started receiving phone-book sized packets in the mail from General Motors’ legal team suing me for violating their copyrights.

I tried reading some of the stuff they were sending me, but I could barely understand any of it. All I knew was they wanted to take my domain “chevyvolt.org” from me, which I thought was greatly unfair.

When I first went to register the domain, GM had already had an ample opportunity to register it themselves. They did not. It wasn’t like I swiped the domain name right from under them. I just simply chose a name to represent a product that I was thought was going to change the American auto industry. The first American made electric car.

I also find it distasteful that they waited until my domain became popular (5th on google) before they decided to take legal action.

But whatever, I thought. I can not match the legal power of GM, I couldn’t even read or understand their legal documents for crying out loud. I tried contacting them via email because they also sent me a lot of documents via email, but they never responded. I am not sure why. Maybe it was because of my informal tone?

Anyways. Fast forward a couple of months, and I suddenly see a $30 something odd dollar charge on one of my credit cards from GoDaddy. I went to check on it and it turned out GoDaddy has decided to charge me a service fee for the pleasure of revoking my domain.

I wouldn’t be so upset by this move by GoDaddy if they had notified me in advance, or provide me with a good reason why it’s necessary to charge me $30 for something that has absolutely no benefit to me, and that I did not in anyway request.

What’s worst, they billed a random credit card I had on file that I once used to buy a domain. I never authorized the credit card to be used for random service charges. I actually did not even know they had my credit card on file, since I mainly used paypal to pay for godaddy related payments.

This was rather infuriating to me. I went through GoDaddy and deleted as much information as I could about my payment history. Then I started the process of transferring all of my domains out of GoDaddy. Tthis is partly one of the reasons why it took me so long to write this blog entry — I wanted to wait until all my important domains are off of GoDaddy before I rebuke them.

So any how. I no longer own chevyvolt.org, even though it was my hard work that made it popular. I moved all the content to http://electriccarsmpg.com/ for historical sake. But’s thats the story. Hoped you enjoyed it.

Somedays I still wish that GM had offered to buy my domain from me instead of taking legal actions. I estimate it costed them anywhere between $10K – $20K in legal and processing to fees to steal my domain. I would have easily sold them my domain for a piece of that. I think that would have been a fair trade off for almost two years worth of work.

  • Wa La

    Interesting story.  Here’s my quick thoughts on your situation in regards to the situation with GM.  I believe the claim that they have against you is probably a trademark claim and not copyright.  Copyright encompasses the body of law in rights to publish, record, perform, use, etc. works such as art, music, and film,etc.  Trademark, on the hand involes the rights to a registered brand or trade name, in this case “Chevy Volt”.

    Put yourself in the position of GM and you trying to protect your brand and name in the Chevy Volt.  You want to be able to control how your brand and name is perceived by consumers, you wouldn’t want a 3rd party (albeit one who may be touting the positive qualities of your product) to potentially confuse the consumers.  You want your own site: chevyvolt.com to get all the traffic and not people mistakenly going to chevyvolt.org and thinking that it is GM’s official site.  GM as the presumed owner of the registered trademark owner of “Chevy Volt” and is well within their rights to protect their name.  Despite you putting your hard work in developing the site and a following, GM wants to be the one controlling the “message” and profits associated with the Volt because they own the name.  Its true that they could have registered the name first, but that’s the whole point of registering a trademark, you shouldn’t have to.  By registering and going through the formalities and costs associated with registering, they are reserving the rights to the name for their own exclusive use. 

    As far as the practical concerns involved in the threatend litigation and your claims that they could have just “paid” you for the site, again put yourself in GM’s shoes.  Are you going to pay off everyone who registers and uses different variants of sites to “chevyvolt.com” (i.e. chevyvolt.net, chevyvolts.com, chevysvolt.com, chevyvolt.tv.)? Paying people who violate your registered trademark would set up a policy where people will start a cottage industry of registering frivolous domain names hoping to get a huge pay day (similar to the problem of domain squatters in the early dotcom boom).  In the alternative, GM could utilize their salaried in-house counsel, whose sole job is to protect the companies trademark, send you a boilerplate “cease and desist” letter.  The in-house counsel is probably paid, let’s say six figures to be generous, so his monthly salary is about $8k.  Drafting and sending the letter and documents should take mere hours, so we’re talking about hundreds of dollars worth of work.  The monetary cost to “take” the site from you is minimal compared to the cost it would take to buy it from you.  Most importantly threatening legal action sends a strong message to the world.  GM is saying that it is ready and able to defend and protect its trademark against any future trademark infringer.

    Not to sound overly negative towards you and your situation, just wanted to add my two cents.  In fact I am impressed and entertained by your blog.  I applaud your entrepreneur spirt and intelligence.  I look forward to reading your future posts.

  • Anonymous

    How dare you come to my blog to dispense “logic” and “reason”. I don’t have any room for that here! Specious arguments and unreasonable demands are the norm.

    But thank you for your thought provoking response. You are probably right about the “trademark”, and I mostly agree with your sentiment about the importance of it.

  • Wa La

    keep up the good work!

  • GM_bullies

    This seems patently unfair.  

  • Stevecyester

    GM is a bully. Pure filth. I HATE them! They are scum of the 1st order.   BTW, certainly you’ve seen the documentary, “Who Killed the Electric Car.”  GM had a wonderful beloved electric car (not a fake hybrid like the way bloated priced Volt). They crushed them all! And bought & destroyed the excellent battery company that was way ahead of its time. What anuses!  What the hell happened to all that technology they had to produce such an effective all electric car nearly 20 years ago? They are treasonous traitors to the American public & to their former stockholders…like me. They are the worst kind of corrupt incomptence that an American corporation can put forth…and THAT is saying a hell of a lot!