SA'S TELKOM GETS MAD AT ITS WEB CRITICS AND THREATENS R5 MILLION SUIT
Telkom has instituted what could be the largest claim against trademark infringement in SA Internet history, for R5 million, against the owners of the parody web sites Hellkom.co.za and Telkomsucks.0catch.com.
Letters were sent to the owners and administrators of the offending sites yesterday demanding that they refrain from making unauthorised use of Telkom's trademark and using disparaging logos.
Telkom media liaison specialist Ravin Maharaj confirmed that legal letters had been sent to Stirton and the alleged owner of Hellkom. Telkom also said the sites encourage "hate speech", although it does not give any specific examples.
The www.hellkom.co.za site has become popular as a forum for people to post strongly worded complaints against Telkom's pricing structure and service. It has a section that lists various jokes at South Africa's only fixed line operator's expense. The site also carries derivations of the Telkom logo by changing the colour to red and giving it devil horns and a tail.
Telkom's legal letter, drafted by their representatives Adams & Adams, emphasises the equity Telkom has invested in its brand and logo it also mentions that it would take action against telkomsucks.0catch.com in "the High Court of the United States." However, it makes no mention of any hate speech issue.
Gregg Stirton, who administers the hellkom.co.za site and used to own the Telkomsucks.0catch.co.za site, says he is still formulating his response the demands set by Telkom for which they have set a deadline for Friday, 13 August.
"The Telkomsucks site doesn't exist anymore. So I am not sure what they want to do about that," he says.
Regarding the claims of hate speech, Stirton says, the site posts his and other peoples' opinions and none of it can be considered hate speech - being offensive to any race or religious group as defined by the SA Constitution. "There is no way I would allow anyone to post something saying 'let's bomb Telkom', because that would be totally irresponsible and offensive," he says.
According to the Domain Name Registry, the Hellkom.co.za name is owned by "Henry Smith", but ITWeb was unable to contact him as the telephone number provided does not exist.
Stirton is being voluntarily aided by Johannesburg advocate Michael Alachouzos, who is also a registered attorney in the US state of New York.
"I am quite puzzled by the Telkom letter as it threatens legal action in the US. Firstly, there is no 'High Court' there, so they must mean some kind of equivalent. Secondly, this kind of issue has been well litigated there and US courts are strict about upholding freedom of speech," Alachouzos told ITWeb.
Rudi Briedenhann, a legal advisor at e-law firm Buys Inc says the Telkom letter posted on the Hellkom.co.za site has nothing to do with it at all. "So far that site is free to operate as it chooses. However, it may be sailing a bit close to the wind as far as the Telkom logo is concerned," he says. Briedenhann also says the threatened claim of R5 million is unheard of in SA Internet history. Stirton says that more than 50 000 people have visited the Hellkom.co.za site since it was launched on 1 July.