By Hillel Aron
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The LAPD is trying to shut down a Web site that rank-and-file officers started to give a voice to the cop on the beat. Backed by a pricey outside law firm and charges of “cybersquatting,” the City Attorney‘s Office has ordered Detective Andrew Malkhasian, the founder, to turn lapd.org over to the LAPD.
Malkhasian and Silicon Valley executive Peter Hertan, who holds the rights to the lapd.org domain name, say the department is being so nasty, they are trying to transfer title instead to the Police Protective League, the cop labor organization. But citing the legal firepower arrayed against him, Malkhasian feels that his site’s days are probably numbered.
“This is not about money,” insists Hertan, who registered the name while advising the officers on their 1996 launch. “The league will make sure the content represents the view of cops on the street as opposed to management.”
Assistant City Attorney Ed Perez says the site violates the new federal cybersquatting law, which bans the use of Web-site names that confuse the public or sap revenues from a better-known group with a similar handle.
“The LAPD is a symbol that belongs to the city,” Perez says.
No one is saying so, but the dispute is clearly linked to the city‘s recent efforts to cash in on the LAPD’s notoriety. The Police Commission in mid-November voted to trademark the LAPD name as a prelude to lucrative licensing agreements with Hollywood producers, T-shirt manufacturers and the like. The city attorney‘s cease-and-desist letter went out days later, Malkhasian said.
The site was launched in 1996 by officers from several divisions; department officials were approached but refused to get involved, Malkhasian says. About a year later, the department’s public-affairs office fought for control over the site. Hertan says he offered to give up the lapd.org name if the chief would acknowledge the street cops‘ contributions and keep a spot open on the site for the views of the rank and file. His offer was met by deafening silence, Hertan recalls.
Perez says he knows nothing of that offer, but adds that several officers more recently have tried to hold the city up for money. (Malkhasian gets help from other officer volunteers, but they prefer to remain unidentified.) Malkhasian admits he has sought compensation, but says he only wanted to cover his $3,000 in expenses and finance a new site for beat officers to be heard.
“This site is so harmless, it’s amazing,” Malkhasian says. A quick scan of the site‘s current offerings reveals it’s hardly a forum for rabble-rousing. Classifieds and stories on contract negotiations and fallen officers are the norm; criticism of Chief Bernard Parks, when voiced, is mild. “The LAPD has a history of severe control over its officers,” adds Malkhasian.
“I‘m an establishment person, and I’m caught in the middle,” says Hertan, who‘s involved with a Silicon Valley start-up. “I’m sympathetic to the city‘s position, but I’ve been helping these cops for three to four years, and I‘m not about to throw that off the roof.”
The fate of the city’s trademark application is hard to predict. Law enforcement agencies from the Dallas P.D. to the Canadian Mounties make money off licensing their names. But from Dragnet to L.A. Confidential, the LAPD flag has flown over TV and film productions since the first movie makers pitched their tents just a couple of miles from the Police Academy near downtown L.A.
“It‘s possible the courts might say LAPD can’t walk in now and say they suddenly have some sort of trademark in something you have been making and selling for a long time,” legal analyst Stan Goldman told Fox News Channel.
Perez says a response from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is expected in nine to 12 months. In the meantime, the city is contemplating going to court against lapd.org, he adds.
Malkhasian, who fears for his job, says he‘s through working on the site. Recently, he was called into the City Attorney’s Office in the company of his commanding officer to discuss the dispute, he and Perez say.
Says Malkhasian: “We‘re doing this for all the right reasons, but what’s that expression? Might makes right?”