DAYTON (TDB) -- A federal judge refused to issue a temporary restraining order Tuesday that would have blocked an Ohio Internet sports information company from using the domain name www.Bucknuts.com, a Web address that provides news articles, commentary and other content about Ohio State University's football and basketball teams. The site was started in 1998 and is not affiliated with the school. It operates as a commerical enterprise based in Dayton and has about 20 employees.
Bucknuts gets about a million visits a year -- maybe more -- and says its purpose is to provide
information to OSU fans in amounts exceeding content available in traditional media outlets like newspaper sports pages, magazines, talk radio and TV. It publishes stories about recruiting and players that often cannot be found or heard in the standard locations, and its reach is global because Buckeye enthusiasts can click on the site from anywhere they happen to be.
Earlier this month, Bucknuts moved to sever its ties with Scout.com, which is based in Washington and operates a network of online sites that publish news about professional and college sports. Both companies now have filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court about contractural and competitive relationships. There are also legal disputes about who gets to use the domain name, and the stakes are probably heightened because OSU's football team is No. 1 in the nation and the basketball Buckeyes are in the Top 10. (Southern District of Ohio, 3-06-cv-385.) The case also opens a window on the business models of so-called New Media enterprises that are becoming more influential as online publishing challenges Old Media newspapers for primacy and advertising dollars.
Bucknuts said in the lawsuit that it had been redirecting visitors from Bucknuts.com to www.OhioState.Scout.com, an online network affiliate in Seattle. Bucknuts says it wants to cease and become independent, and has raised questions about the share of advertising fees it has gotten. Right now, it looks like there are two sites operating under the Bucknuts name.
District Judge Walter H. Rice of Dayton said he would not enter a temporary restraining order against www.Bucknuts.com, which would have stopped it from using the site. Rice added he harbored doubts about whether Scout.com was properly using its version of the name. ''The court remains convinced that Scout Publishing has failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. In particular, the court concludes there is a significant question of fact as to whether Scout Publishing is lawfully operating the Scout Website utilizing the Bucknuts domain name,'' Rice said in a written decision.
The Bucknuts based in Dayton said it was splitting from Scout on Dec. 1 and notified readers it was returning to its independent roots. A notice posted on the site said, ''Over the past nine years, Bucknuts has developed professional content, timely features and unique behind-the-scene stories. There are popular Bucknuts personalities such as Steve Heiwagen, Dave Biddle, Gary Housteau, Charles Babb, Kyle Lamb, NevadaBuck, Bill Greene, Jerry Rudzinski, Mr. Bucknuts, Duane Long and a large cast of others. As an independent Website, our established personalities and contributors, now given greater flexibility and new technological products, will enable use to move to the next level."
Scout contends a contract has been violated by the break. Its team of lawyers include Michael S. Poulos of Chicago, and Christopher M. Huck and Stellman Keehnel of Seattle. Bucknuts' lawyers are Donald J. Ireland and Charles J. Faruki of Dayton.