Bill Cosby Wins Rights to Fat Albert Domain Name

Bill Cosby has been awarded custody of, which had heretofor been used as a spam site.

Bill Cosby Wins Fight Over Domain Name (AP)

A U.N. panel awarded to comedian Bill Cosby on Monday an Internet domain name based on the Fat Albert cartoon character he created in the 1960s. Arbitrators for the World Intellectual Property Organization ordered the transfer of to Cosby, who had complained it was being used in bad faith to divert visitors to a commercial search engine and a Web site selling sexually explicit products.

Cosby created Fat Albert as part of his standup comedy routine about his childhood in Philadelphia. The children’s series “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” first appeared on CBS in 1972, and a Fat Albert movie was released last year.

Sterling Davenport of Loretto, Tenn., who had registered the domain name, did not respond to Cosby’s complaint, arbitrator John Kidd said. Nonetheless, Kidd said, “the respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the domain name.”

A number of celebrities, including Morgan Freeman, Julia Roberts, Madonna, Nicole Kidman, Pamela Anderson, Pierce Brosnan and Carmen Electra, have already won the Internet version of their names through U.N. arbitration. Anyone can register a domain name for as little as a few dollars. The arbitration system, which started in 1999, allows those who think they have the right to a domain to claim it without a costly court battle or payment of large fees to buy the name. Critics say the system favors trademark holders and not individuals who also may have legitimate rights to the names for parody, criticism and other purposes.

This is a rather tricky area. On the one hand, Cosby created the Fat Albert concept and has earned the right to any profits that come from it. On the other hand, Davenport’s site isn’t using the Fat Albert characters but merely a rather generic name. It’s not entirely clear to me why Cosby should have exclusive rights to any use of that combination of words, even when not in the context of a cartoon show, especially without having laid claim to them by purchasing the domain name.

Anecdotally, in doing research for this entry, I decided to do due diligence on the domain. It currently redirects to an old Reuters story “The Albert Bear.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Fatal Bert says:

    Screw Cosby, that site should belong to me!

    – Fatal Bert

  2. realist says:

    It is worrisome in that it is part of a trend to extend copyright, trade mark and all sorts of “intellectual property.” There seem to be no limits to the extensions that can be justified.

    For example due to the nature of dvd burners and other technology people have been unable to copy material they created. If they use software to get around this they commit a felony.

    It is interesting that the “hollywood left” is so supportive of increasing restrictions on free expression. It is also interesting that the far right are among their strongest supporters. Senator Hatch was the first to propose laws that would allow entertainment computers to monitor the content of computers and to destroy those computers if they contained the wrong material.

    I think we are getting into a fundamental divide. Precapitalistic views of wealth versus the more modern. The “owbership society” does not envision a dynamic of markets and change, but fixed inherited wealth were the purpose of government is to provide contracts for the haves. The entertainmen industry also thinks of ownership as something sacrd which must be protected from upstarts and gives it the quasi religious name of “art.”

    The dream of both is to rigify things so that if you own you will continue to own and all that you have is protected. If it involves mantaining monopolies includinmg the right to cripple others capacity to produce this is good. Both extremes believe they are nobility.