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Tesla’s Lawyers Tried, Failed To Hijack TeslaShop.com

TeslaShop.com homepage
TeslaShop.com homepage

Car companies bullying small businesses over website domain names is no new phenomenon. We’re still pointing and laughing at Nissan and Bentley for their gaffes in that department. Now, Tesla has stepped on a rake trying to wrest control of the web domain TeslaShop.com from its Polish owner in court. Tesla came close to winning, but arbitrators decided the automaker didn’t have the right to take over the site.

Registered to one Korneliusz Wieteska in Poland, TeslaShop.com is an independent website that’s evidently trying to become a Tesla community hub and an outlet for parts and accessories. Its homepage greets visitors with a photo of a Model X towing a camper, and invites them to sign up for a newsletter or reach out for commercial partnerships. Tesla’s logos and font aren’t used anywhere, and the homepage touches on “pain points” of Tesla ownership—clearly, the site’s owner isn’t trying to pass themselves off as an affiliate of Tesla.

But the domain name is similar enough to that of Tesla’s online retail outlet (shop.tesla.com) that Tesla decided to try to seize the domain. Due to technicalities with the domain provider, this wasn’t decided in a court of law, but through arbitration.

Tesla lineup at a Supercharger station
Tesla lineup at a Supercharger station. Tesla

Tesla’s argument more or less boiled down to the one used by Nissan and Bentley before it: That it’s the biggest company to use its name, and therefore has a right to the TeslaShop.com address. It claimed the site rides the coattails of Tesla’s brand for commercial benefit and to gather customer info, and that it had no good reason to invoke Tesla’s brand. It also contended that TeslaShop.com was trying to pass itself off as official because it lacked a disclaimer stating otherwise.

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The site’s ownership countered by pointing out that TeslaShop.com is not currently commercialized, and that European trademark law doesn’t stop third parties from using a brand name to indicate intended use of a product. (As in, you can sell Ford parts without representing Ford yourself.) It also demonstrated that the domain had been registered as far back as August 2006, years before the first Tesla Roadster was built, and more than a decade before Tesla rebranded from Tesla Motors.

“Given this timeline, it is evident that Complainant’s complaint should be viewed as an attempt at hostile takeover by a larger entity leveraging its market dominance,” the site’s legal representation stated. “The delayed assertion of trademark rights against a domain registered and used well in advance raises concerns about the legitimacy of Complainant’s claims.”

Tesla lineup on board a car carrier
Tesla lineup on board a car carrier. Tesla

Ultimately, the arbitration panel found that while many of Tesla’s claims were grounded, it concluded the site wasn’t posing as a representative of Tesla. It pointed to the site’s prominent complaints about ownership issues like expensive parts, and the use of a family road trip photo rather than a curated corporate photo shoot as a lead image.

And so, TeslaShop.com will remain under the control of its Polish proprietor. Whether the site becomes a business or community hub remains to be seen, but it’s another victory for Davids against Goliaths. Perhaps Tesla could’ve learned a thing or two from Nissan’s and Bentley’s similar flops in court—though that’d require Tesla acknowledging it has something to learn from legacy automakers. Judging by Tesla’s tumbling sales, it’s hard to see things any other way.

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