For those of you not up to speed on the "TheSarasotaMLS.com" controversy, I will do a quick synopsis. There is a buzz all over the real estate community on the Internet about the dispute between the Sarasota Association of Realtors (SAR) and Marc Rasmussen. Marc is a member of SAR and has been using the domain name "TheSarasotaMLS.com" since August of 2003.
This year the SAR decided to go after Marc's domain because in their view he was not "the" Sarasota MLS. They recently won a split decision with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The ICANN Decision was a majority decision and it went against Marc. It was ordered that the ownership of the domain be transferred to the Sarasota Association of Realtors.
What is the Big Deal?
The big deal is one word - Links. Anyone somewhat familiar with Search Engine Optimization knows that one of the major factors in search engine rankings is links from other websites. Links help determine the authority of a domain. By taking away Marc's domain, they are also taking away tens of thousands of links Marc has earned over the last 5 years. These links are not easily replaced.
Without getting too technical, Marc is temporarily able to salvage many of these links by using a 301 permanent redirect from thesarasotamls.com to his new site luxurysarasotarealestate.com. This has allowed him to redirect all of his incoming links to his new site. The result, he is still number 1 for Sarasota real estate in Google.
Marc is appealing the decision in Federal Court. If he loses, he will have to remove the 301 redirect and he will lose many of his rankings. Not only that, all of the links that Marc and his team at Real Estate Webmasters have worked so hard to earn, will then be pointed to the Sarasota Association of Realtors domain.
Marc's site was an obvious target because he achieved top rankings for many Sarasota real estate related terms. I do not have any information on whether the SAR went after other websites. However, I did find many other websites that are currently using Sarasota MLS in their domain:
There are many, many more. I just did a quick search in Google using the allinurl command.
SAR CEO Speaks?
There are several posts on real estate blogs attributed to the "Sarasota CEO." I will assume these posts are from Kathy Roberts, CEO of the Sarasota Association of Realtors. I must stress that these comments were not posted on the SAR website. They are unverified comments on several social networking sites. I would like to see the CEO put out an official statement on their website.
Sarasota CEO is quoted as saying "But it is, in fact, in the best interest of the membership of SAR and of the public that SAR protect its rights in the trademark."
What are they protecting? The SAR does not even provide Sarasota MLS data anymore.
Sometimes You Need to Take a Stand
There is an old saying that: "you have to pick your battles." This is a battle the Sarasota Association of Realtors should not have fought. Not only is this unjust, but it is a complete waste of time and money.
I am a member of the SAR and I support the majority of their issues. In this case, I believe they are flat out wrong. In my opinion, the SAR should drop the case and return the domain to Marc Rasmussen.
When did the SAR file a trademark on "Sarasota MLS?"
According to SunBiz, the SAR did not file a trademark registration with the State of Florida until July 30, 2008.
Why wait 5 years to go after his domain?
That is a great question and one I would like the answer to myself.
Why Go After Marc's site when the SAR no longer provides Sarasota MLS data?
Several months ago, the Sarasota Association of Realtors made the decision to join the Mid Florida Regional MLS (MFRMLS). All of the MLS data is now maintained and distributed by MFRMLS out of Orlando, not the SAR. This makes their decision even more curious.
Who is paying for all the legal fees?
I do not have access to any concrete numbers, but the legal fees on both sides of this dispute are mounting. The SAR is using revenue from more than 3000 member's dues to pay for its legal fees. Marc is being forced to spend his own money.