Central Basin Files Lawsuit Against Another Water Agency for Cyber Squatting and Trademark Infringement

Sep 29, 2011, 03:00 ET from Central Basin Municipal Water District

Central Basin is forced to take federal legal action against the Water Replenishment District of Southern California following unlawful use of agency domain names

COMMERCE, Calif., Sept. 29, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Central Basin Municipal Water District has filed a federal lawsuit against the Water Replenishment District of Southern California (WRD) for cyber squatting and trademark infringement.  The suit charges WRD with unlawfully using Central Basin website domain names to create fake Central Basin websites intended to confuse and mislead the public. The domain names include www.centralbasin.net, www.central-basin.net and www.centralbasinreplenishment.org.  

Over the last few weeks, the header of each website has changed from "Central Basin Water" to "Central Basin News and Issues" to "Central Basin Groundwater and Water Issues." Most website posts have featured outdated newspaper articles and letters critical of the Central Basin Municipal Water District. Each website has a separate Twitter account and Facebook page.  

"Why would a public agency need so many websites, not to mention Facebook and Twitter accounts?" asked Central Basin General Manager Art Aguilar. "It is the deceptive use of social media by one agency to harm another. The term 'astrotweeting' comes to mind."

In a letter to Central Basin dated August 9, 2011, WRD denied owning the websites. But on September 9, 2011, Domain Names by Proxy, (DBP) an internet company that allows domain registrants to remain unidentified by using DBP to make the purchase as a third-party, confirmed that WRD had purchased the website domain names and then hired DBP to conceal themselves as the owners.

"These actions are not only a violation of federal law but they are also a continuing commentary on how WRD chooses to do business secretively, behind closed doors and not in the public interest," said Aguilar.

The lawsuit seeks the transfer of the domains in question to the Central Basin Municipal Water District, as well as restitution for the allowable damages and legal fees.

"We are going to court because these WRD-sponsored websites are designed to confuse and mislead the public," continued Aguilar, "They misrepresent themselves as Central Basin sites, which is not only a threat to our reputation but also a threat to public health and safety."

This is not the first time this year that WRD has been called on the carpet to defend its actions in court.

On April 25, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant ruled that the WRD did not comply with the California Constitution in imposing its Replenishment Assessments on cities within the Central Basin. Judge Chalfant ruled that the WRD's replenishment assessment is a tax on a property right because water rights can be sold, bought or leased, just like real estate. And Proposition 218, which Californians passed over a decade ago, requires voter approval on the assessments, which the WRD didn't do as the assessments increased year to year. WRD may have to pay back these assessments. A trial for damages is pending.

The cities of Downey, Cerritos and Signal Hill brought the suit against the WRD. Those three cities will seek damages which Aguilar estimates could reach $19 million. Since WRD serves over 40 cities in Los Angeles County, Aguilar points out that the total WRD damages could exceed $100 million if all the cities pursued their own damages.

"The use of the replenishment assessment on endeavors like misleading websites is a clear misappropriation of public funding," Aguilar said. "And perhaps the worst part is that we don't even have an exact amount of how many thousands of dollars WRD has spent. This is because there is no public record and these items are never taken to the Board."

"It's beyond us why WRD, a public agency, would want to purposely mislead the people that we serve by setting up fake a Central Basin website. The public interest is harmed by this. It's disappointing to say the least," added Aguilar.

Central Basin is a public agency that wholesales imported water to cities, mutual water companies, investor-owned utilities and private companies in southeast Los Angeles County, serving a population of more than 2 million. In addition, Central Basin provides the region with recycled water for municipal, commercial and industrial uses. Formed in 1952, Central Basin is committed to ensuring a safe and reliable water supply for the region. For more information please visit www.centralbasin.org.

SOURCE Central Basin Municipal Water District