MINNEAPOLIS Some of the most-high profile consumer and media companies in the nation are suing a South St. Paul man to stop him from using their trademarks to direct people on the Internet to anti-abortion Web sites.
The joint lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis yesterday set up a fight over the rights of companies to protect valuable trademarks vs. the right to free speech.
The Washington Post, the Coca-Cola Co., the McDonald's Corp. and PepsiCo Inc. joined in the lawsuit against William S. Purdy Sr., a former railroad engineer and longtime abortion opponent.
The suit accuses Purdy of cybersquatting a practice in which someone exploits a name or trademark by registering and using Internet domain names that are identical or confusingly similar to the famous ones.
Purdy registered a series of domain names, such as MyCoca-Cola.com, MyMcDonalds.com, MyPepsi.org and washington postsays.com. When a person enters those names in his computer Web browser, the domain redirects the person's computer to anti-abortion Web sites with graphic pictures of aborted fetuses.
Several news organizations, including the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, the Chicago Tribune and USA TODAY, have sent Purdy cease-and-desist letters asking that he stop using Internet domain names that could be thought to belong to them.
He said his primary "target" was The Washington Post "because of their rabidly pro-choice editorial agenda. My Number 2 target is the Star Tribune, for the same reason."
He chose the food companies because they are large, well-known institutions that he believes should take a stance on abortion.
But "in my mind, this is not an issue of abortion," Purdy said. "This is an issue of free speech. If it was about banning guns or gay rights, would there be a problem? The question is do I have the right to make a statement through a domain name, or a combination of a domain name and Web site?"
The companies suing Purdy contend that the 52-year-old grandfather and unnamed others "have been systematically hijacking the famous trademarks of renowned food and beverage products companies and prominent news organizations to gain publicity and divert traffic to anti-abortion Web sites."
The five companies in the lawsuit joined forces after they discovered they were all hit about the same time early this month, said Kari Bjorhus, a Coca Cola representative.
"It's rare that you see someone abusing so many trademarks," she said.
Purdy said he registered the domain names as a religious and political statement to draw attention to abortion. He said he has no ties to the anti-abortion Web sites.
Purdy denied he was infringing on the famous trademarks. "I'm not in competition with them, and I'm not trying to trade off their names. I'm simply saying 'MyMcDonalds Bill Purdy's McDonalds knows abortion is murder,' " he said.
Purdy has tangled with companies over Internet issues before. Five years ago, he started a Web site criticizing his former employer, Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co.
A federal judge ruled in 2000 that he had to relinquish two domain names with similar names to the railroad's domain.