A Humble man who scooped up more than 1,000 Internet domain names for possible Olympic host cities is fighting efforts by the mighty International Olympic Committee to stop him – and so far he's winning.
Stephen Frayne Jr. denies he bought domain names (such as tokyo2020.com, the host city for that year’s Olympics) to sell them for a profit – a practice known as cybersquatting.
“A lot of people are thinking I'm a cyber squatter, and I take strong opposition to that,” Frayne said.
The IOC disagrees, and sued Frayne in federal court. But so far, Frayne has outwitted the multinational nonprofit.
Last week, a federal judge in Houston dismissed four allegations by the IOC that Frayne violated state and federal consumer protection laws, including the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, court papers state. The judge allowed the IOC, which is based in Switzerland, to proceed on a fifth allegation, related to anti-cybersquatting laws. The Olympic committee may also refile the dismissed allegations with additional evidence.
Frayne has precedent to lean on — he successfully defended a similar lawsuit over his ownership of chicago2016.com, when that city was vying to host the games.
Frayne, who studied economics en route to a master’s degree in business administration, casts himself as an advocate for public dialogue about the costs of hosting Olympic games. His attorney, Brian Hall, said Frayne purchased about 1,400 domains through his company, City Pure L.L.C., to use as a platform for citizens to discuss the merits of hosting the Olympics. In taking Frayne to court, Hall alleges the IOC is trying to silence Frayne and Olympic critics.
“The Olympics aren’t always good for places,” Hall said, noting health concerns as Rio de Janeiro prepares to host the summer games this month. “He’s providing a forum for free speech.”
But the IOC alleges Frayne is acting in bad faith and is seeking to profit off the Olympics.
“We have a naming pattern since 1896 using a city and year date,” said James Bikoff, an attorney representing the IOC. “When someone goes out and tries to register those in advance, to preclude the committee that’s going to choose the host of the games…that’s a violation of the games and the city that will be hosting.
Bikoff believes the IOC has a smoking gun — a 2010 video from Rice University in which Frayne makes a business pitch to make money from selling Olympic-related domain names.
“We make money by monetizing the worldwide, tremendous impact in the Olympics every four years,” Frayne says in the video. “Going forward, we own…almost every worldwide city and four-number combination .com and .org.”
Frayne detailed his business plan, and argued “there is a tremendous amount of money to be made” from the Olympics by real estate, construction and Internet-related firms.
When the Press spoke with Frayne, he declined to say whether he intends to sell domains for profit, and referred us to Hall. His attorney, however, shrugged off the Rice University video. He said no one took Frayne’s pitch seriously, Frayne never actually sold any domains and the clip doesn’t help the IOC make its case.
But Hall’s explanation fails to fully explain something else the Press found.
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Frayne’s LinkedIn page states his company, City Pure L.L.C., hosted domains including “tokyo2016.com.” A URL on the same page links to tokyo2016.com, which redirects to Colorado company HugeDomains.com, and displays a notice that tokyo2016.com is for sale. The Press called HugeDomains and spoke with a woman named Natalie, who confirmed the domain is on the market — for $2,000.
Hall said Frayne’s LinkedIn page is “outdated” and that Frayne no longer owns tokyo2016.com. He is unsure under what circumstances Frayne gave up ownership of the domain, or if Frayne sold the address.
Nonetheless, Hall asserts the IOC’s case is weak and a ruling in favor of the Olympic giant would set a bad precedent. The long tradition of the Olympics, Hall argues, doesn’t give the IOC control in perpetuity of every possible city name and four-digit year domain.
Bikoff assured the Press that Frayne is the party with the shaky case. He said he looks forward to the IOC’s day in court.