by Henry Charles Mishkoff

Chapter 2: We Can Work It Out

July 5, 2001
The Non-Responsive Response

Ever since I've known Donna, she's boasted about the fireworks extravaganza that Detroit puts on for the Fourth of July. (More accurately, it's a joint celebration of Independence Day and Canada's Dominion Day, staged by Detroit in cooperation with Windsor, Ontario, as part of an event called the International Freedom Festival.1) I had always assumed that she was just bragging on her home town, but in 1997 we had arranged our vacation schedules so that we could be in Detroit for the Big Show. And I have to admit that it was everything that Donna had said it would be. Three barges anchored in the Detroit River (between the U.S. and Canada) fired round after round of heart-stopping rockets and breathtaking starbursts that lit up the sky for what seemed like hours. An awesome show.

I have no way of knowing whether Julie Greenberg was fortunate enough to catch the fireworks in Detroit in the summer of 2001, but she must have been inspired by something, because one of the first things she did when she got back to her office after the holiday was to sit down and fire off a response to my letter. And here's what she had to say:

Dear Mr. Mishkoff:

We are in receipt of your correspondence dated May 24, 2001.

Unfortunately, your concurrent use of our client's federally registered mark in connection with distributing information and other services pertaining to our client's mall is likely to create the impression that it is sponsored by, affiliated with, or somehow related to the mall. This erroneous impression is the very confusion against which federal trademark law protects.

We hereby reiterate our demand that you immediately discontinue all use of this, and any other domain name or trademark incorporating the mark SHOPS AT WILLOW BEND, or other similar marks, and assist us in arranging for the transfer of the domain names to our client.

Our client is willing to prepare the necessary documentation for the transfer(s), and to reimburse you for your registration fee, if applicable.

However, if we are faced to obtain relief through legal action in federal court, we will seek all available remedies.

Please contact us immediately to confirm your intentions.

Sincerely yours,
Julie A. Greenberg

I pored over the letter, eager to learn the details of my lawless behavior – and I was more than a little surprised to discover that I wasn't about to learn them from Julie. I had offered to turn my domain name over to her client, all she had to do was to point me to the laws I had violated – but although she had taken the time to write a response, she had completely ignored the question that was at the heart of my letter, which was: What exactly is it that I'm doing that's illegal?

Instead of using her response as an opportunity to... well, to respond, Julie basically repeated the vague allegations and pointed threats that she had made in her first letter. She did offer to reimburse me for my domain registration fee – but this was not an especially enticing offer, as it amounted to all of $35. The only real specifics she offered were a few more details about the kinds of confusion my website might cause – and in gratitude for this semblance of a response, I beefed up my disclaimer to make it less likely that anyone would think that my website was "sponsored by, affiliated with, or somehow related to the mall":

This is an unofficial site. It is not sponsored by,
affiliated with, or related to The Shops at Willow Bend in any way.

The official site is located at

But although I did not learn much from what Julie told me, what she didn't say spoke volumes. It seemed to me that, if she had persuasive evidence that I was breaking the law, she would have been eager to point out to me the laws that I was breaking. After all, she was a professional attorney, she did this kind of thing for a living, she must have been as familiar with the intricacies of trademark law as I was with the procedures for creating websites.

As you might imagine, Julie's puzzling unresponsiveness made me increasingly suspicious – and increasingly determined not to give up my domain name without a good reason. It seemed as though The Taubman Company felt like they were entitled to my domain name because (a) they wanted it, (b) they were bigger and more powerful than I was, and (c) they were not averse to throwing their weight around. But realistically, what could they do to me? It seemed unlikely that they would send someone around to break my legs – and while the thought of being sued didn't exactly fill my heart with joy, it didn't necessarily terrify me, either. After all, if Julie couldn't tell me what I was doing wrong, how was she going to convince a judge and a jury that I had broken the law?

But it was way too early to be thinking about judges and juries. Even though threats of lawsuits seemed to be important tools in Julie's bag of rhetorical tricks, I doubted that her client would actually want to incur the expense of a lawsuit until they had exhausted all other possibilities. I mean, we were all reasonable people, weren't we? Just because we had a difference of opinion didn't mean that we had to go to the mattresses. After all, we were still talking to each other – and if we kept talking, we might be able to resolve our differences without having to resort to drastic measures.

To get the answers I was looking for, I would simply have to be more tenacious.

Time for another letter.

Next: Try, Try Again

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