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Internet domains spur legal battle

Anti-LDS group has not proven damages yet, attorneys argue

A lawsuit filed by a Salt Lake group known for its criticism of the LDS Church should be dismissed since the group hasn't proven damages and has not responded to offers to rectify the problem, attorneys argued Wednesday.

The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) has offered to give to Utah Lighthouse Ministries (UTLM) the computer domain names that are the crux of UTLM's cybersquatting claims.

"Were they really interested in getting the domain names back, they could have gotten them back with a phone call — and they still could," said Ronald Dunn, an attorney for FAIR at a federal court hearing on his client's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

UTLM founders Jerald and Sandra Tanner filed suit in April against Allen Wyatt, his wife, Debra Wyatt, and their company, Discovery Computing Inc. out of Mesa, Ariz. Also named in the suit is FAIR, a New York corporation, and its president, Scott Gordon.

The Tanners and UTLM have been longtime critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and sell books, newsletters and Internet material that express such views. They allege that the Wyatts registered several Internet domain names associated with UTLM and the Tanners to direct people to FAIR's Web site.

The Tanners and UTLM allege that this constitutes cybersquatting, in which someone registers a domain name to benefit improperly from the name association. The lawsuit also claims this constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition, and these actions allegedly have siphoned off potential buyers and potential income from UTLM.

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball said he would issue a ruling at an undetermined future date.

Paul Oestreich, lawyer for the Tanners and UTLM, said this is really a trademark infringement case. "My client is not interested in the content of Mr. Wyatt's Web site or FAIR's Web site. My clients are concerned with how the domain names have been infringed."

Oestreich said monetary damages would be hard to prove and likely be fairly small. "Our theory in the case is that the Wyatt Web site is linked to commercial Web sites." He also asked for more time for discovery in the case.

Dunn told the court that Allen Wyatt set up the Web site as a volunteer and that FAIR has no control over volunteers, and also has no profit motive in this situation.

The computer hyperlinks involved sent people to articles about LDS matters, but not to FAIR's online bookstore, he said.

Lance Starr, attorney for Allen and Debra Wyatt and Discovery Computing, also contested the lawsuit's claim that the Wyatts drew people away from the UTLM site and cut into its income. If there is some reduction in the Tanner's bookstore income, there could be many reasons why, Starr said, but he expressed doubt that the Wyatts' Web pages had anything to do with it. "There is no commercial activity on those pages at all," he said.