Funeral Homes Cry Foul After Competitor Allegedly Cybersquats on Their Websites
GREENVILLE, MI — A group of funeral home directors in the Greenville area are not happy with a fellow funeral service provider they say tried to siphon some of their business.
At least seven funeral homes say Robert Christiansen, director of Christiansen Funeral Home in Greenville and a cremation service in Wyoming, engaged in “cybersquatting” by registering variations of their Internet sites.
For example, Jeff Marshall says he maintains the site Marshallfuneralhomeinc.com but last month, if someone went to Marshallfuneralhomeinc.net, they would find themselves redirected to the Christiansen site.
“I couldn’t believe he did it,” said Marshall, who has been in the business for 43 years. “We’re professionals; that’s not the way we do business.”
Bill Simpson lives above the Simpson Family Funeral Home in Sheridan while his namesake son lives above the family’s Stanton operation. Simpson said his computer-savvy son was able to figure out that Christiansen bought some of the domain names in August 2009 and more this past January.
“We try to build our business on being ethical with every family we serve,” said Simpson, who has owned his own business since 1974. “I was appalled when I first found out.”
Several owners called the Lansing-based Michigan Funeral Directors Association, which had lawyers who contacted the legal representation for Christiansen and had the domain name redirection halted, according to director Phil Duma.
Duma said Christiansen is not a member, but the association identified six members who were targeted which included Marshall, Simpson, Hurst Funeral Home in Greenville, Belding-based Johnson-Feuerstein Funeral Home, Pederson Funeral Home in Rockford and Stegenga Funeral Chapel in Belmont. Another non-member — Brigham Funeral Homes in Six Lakes, Edmore and Lakeview– says they also were targeted.
“I’ve never seen this before,” said Duma, adding that the stories were similar in that Christiansen would replace the “.com” suffix with “.org” or “.info.”
Christiansen could not be reached for comment.
Duma said the main concern of the association was protecting consumers who possibly were being misdirected.
However, Traverse City attorney Enrico Schaefer, who specializes in trademark, copyright and Internet issues, said there is possible legal recourse.
In 1999, intellectual property rights law was amended to include the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act. The act says, in part, that someone cannot post a domain name with the intention of trading on the name of an existing company by snapping up a domain name.
He said it would be like a store hanging a sign on its building claiming to be an established store and doing business using the good name of the pre-existing company.
The law allows for a punitive judgment of up to $100,000 per domain name, plus attorney costs.
Schaefer said it is no defense to say that a person should have protected the variations of the name.
“If you leave your back door open, it doesn’t give someone the right go into your house and steal things,” Schaefer said.
Duma said the association continues to work with Christiansen to reach a resolution, but would not discuss what that resolution may involve.
“We’re not letting him off the hook,” said David Pederson of Rockford.
Jodie Brigham-Nowak, who runs the family’s Lakeview chapel, said her father, Steve Brigham, talked to Christiansen after discovering the problem and he agreed to stop redirecting — after some stern persuasion.
“It’s a very sad situation,” Brigham-Nowak said.
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