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Web site demands client payment

Ever want to buy a billboard to dun a deadbeat client?

A French law firm tried a similar approach to collecting a legal fee.

It registered the purported client’s personal name as a domain name and dunned him for the fee at his namesake Web site, signing off with a directive to “meditate” on a Ben Franklin maxim about a creditor’s memory.

At “bernardjcarl.com,” the “client,” Washington D.C. lawyer and investor Bernard J. Carl, found a letter apologizing for contacting him in “such a direct and unconventional way,” and asking if he “could have the elegance to pay the counsels” who purportedly helped him in a 2005 deal to acquire D. Porthault, a French brand of luxury linens.

The defendants, lawyer Fabrice Marchisio and the French firm Cotty Vivant Marchisio & Lauzeral, claimed Carl owed money on the Porthault deal. Carl said any work by Marchisio had been subcontracted without his knowledge by the French firm he hired for the deal, Darrois Villey & Maillot. Carl also criticized the quality of the work, saying it threatened to increase the cost of the deal by $300,000.

Network Solutions Inc. has disabled the domain name, but plaintiff Carl pursued claims for unfair competition, trade name infringement and cyberpiracy against the French defendants.

Carl won a libel judgment in Alexandria federal district court, with damages to be determined.

On Sept. 30, Alexandria U.S. District Court T.S. Ellis III said in Carl v. Bernardjcarl.com that the defendants’ false statement about Carl’s alleged debt could be construed as an attack on his integrity that could affect his ability to attract investors.

The court dismissed Carl’s IP claims, saying personal names are not per se protected as a matter of course.
By Deborah Elkins

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