Bogus 'Consumer' Group Stripped Of Domain Names
Restaurant and Bar Lobby Behind "Orwellian" PR Campaign
A trade association representing chain restaurants and taverns has surrendered the domain names of two sites designed to hijack web traffic away from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the pro-nutrition advocacy group. The trade association, the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), had registered cspinot.com, where it attacked CSPI and it's web site, cspinet.org. CCF had also purchased smartmouth.org, a domain name almost identical to that of Smart-Mouth.org, where CSPI provides information for children about nutrition and food marketing.
CCF is one of a shadowy trio of tax-exempt front groups run by Washington lobbyist Richard Berman. That trio also includes the American Beverage Institute, which fights laws designed to curb drunk driving, and the Employment Policies Institute, which is opposed to raising the minimum wage, particularly in the labor-intensive restaurant industry. CCF used to be named the Guest Choice Network, which was founded with seed money from Philip Morris. Berman controls all the organizations, which operate out of Berman's for-profit business, Berman & Co. The current funders of these groups are not disclosed, but Berman's groups are associated with executives from table-service restaurants like Outback Steakhouse,Chili's, and Pizzeria Uno.
"The so-called Center for Consumer Freedom deceives the American people every day of the week by posing as a consumer group, when it's really a front group that does P.R. dirty work for the restaurant and tavern industry," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "But even I was surprised that Rick Berman and his henchmen would stoop so low as to stop young kids from getting valuable nutrition information. I'm never surprised, though, by the goofy and low-brow tone of his efforts. Berman's a real bottom-feeder."
CSPI filed complaints under ICANN's dispute resolution policy. ICANN is the body charged with regulating the Internet domain name system. This is not the first such defeat for CCF, whose registration of the domain name cspinet.com was successfully challenged in January 2002. Also that month, Berman's group had to turn over the domain name chefscollaborative.info to its rightful owner, Chefs Collaborative. In that decision, the panel found that CCF "has engaged in a pattern of registering domain names with the intention of depriving political opponents that own a mark from using that mark in a corresponding domain name."
According to the latest ruling, "[I]t appears that [CCF] attempted to create confusion among Internet users looking for [CSPI's] websites." While one of the sites at issue, cspinot.com, criticized CSPI, CCF redirected traffic from smartmouth.org to the kid's section of the American Dental Association's (ADA)'s web site. According to CSPI, that helped show that CCF acted in bad faith, merely intending to confuse the young visitors trying to reach Smart-Mouth.org.
"The Center for Consumer Freedom has absolutely nothing to do with consumers, but it has everything to do with maximizing profits for major restaurant-and-bar chains," Jacobson said. "It's totally Orwellian. CCF's client companies want consumers-and their kids, evidently-to have less information about their food choices, not more. CCF is anti-parent, anti-kid, anti-health, and anti-truth. The restaurants that fund CCF should be ashamed."
Note: The decision of the National Arbitration Forum panel in Center for Science in the Public Interest v. Guest Choice Network (FA021000128796) is available at www.arbitration-forum.com/domains/decisions/128796.htm.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is a nonprofit health-advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., that focuses on nutrition and food safety. CSPI is supported largely by the 800,000 U.S. and Canadian subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter and by foundation grants.
CSPI's Smart-Mouth.org helps make learning about healthy eating fun for kids. It lets kids see for themselves how their favorite restaurant foods stack up, and teaches kids how industry marketing practices influence their food choices.
Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).