Teenage Web developer Mike Rowe, who was threatened with legal action by Microsoft, has been overwhelmed with support from Internet users and has set up a defence fund to allow him to fight back.
Rowe, a student from Vancouver, registered the domain mikerowesoft.com to front his part-time Web site design business in August 2003. Three months later, he received an email from Microsoft's lawyers asking him to transfer the domain name to Microsoft. They offered to pay him a "settlement" of $10 (£5.55), which is the cost of his original registration fee. Microsoft's lawyers told Rowe that his site infringes on its trademark rights.
When Rowe's plight was reported on the Internet on Monday, his Web site became a victim of its own popularity and had to be taken offline for several hours. According to Rowe's site -- which is now being hosted by a different company -- on Tuesday, about 250,000 people visited his site, many offering financial help: "I have put up a defence fund so that I can hire a lawyer to guide me through the process of talking to Microsoft. I have already received a lot of pledges and I thank each and every one of you for that," he said.
Microsoft's legal department may be busier than they anticipated during the next few months, because in the past four days all the top level domain extensions for mikerowesoft (.co.uk, .net, .org and .tv) have been snapped up. Mikerowesoft.tv has been put up for sale on eBay.
ZDNet UK readers are overwhelmingly in support of Rowe. His story generated hundreds of TalkBacks, with many readers feeling insulted by Microsoft's argument that its customers will get confused between mikerowesoft.com and Microsoft.com. D Colonna, a software engineer from Wisconsin said: "If Microsoft believes their customers will be confused by the existence of mikerowesoft.com, then they hold an extremely dim view of their customers' intelligence."
However, as one reader correctly points out that, under US law, Microsoft has no choice but to pursue a trademark case against Rowe because if it ignores his site, the company will lose its right to fight against trademark infringements that may occur in the future.