Swami Satchidananda was once a popular guru with a flock of notable fans. His historic admirers included singer-songwriter Carole King, actors Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern, diet Doctor Dean Ornish and artist Peter Max.

However, some say that Satchidananda created a “cult,” and scandal seemed to plague the controversial leader until his death earlier this year.

The ashram community in Virginia left behind by Satchidananda is called “Yogaville.”

The heirs to the guru’s legacy decided to file an action against a family, for using Internet domain names as a means to share critical information about the guru and his group on the Worldwide Web.

The Chengs, who lost family member Catherine to “Yogaville” three years ago, want to warn others about the perils of the controversial group, which they consider a “destructive cult.” So the New York family bought up domain names such as “Yogaville.com” and “Integral Yoga.com” to help people find an archive with critical information about the group.

The Satchidananda ashram then responded first with threats and later with a legal complaint, apparently designed to suppress the family’s efforts. The group hoped to ultimately confiscate the disputed domain names.

Yogaville claimed the Chengs somehow were using the domain names for an “illegitimate purpose” and invoked trademark protection.

However, the National Arbitration Forum didn’t see it that way.

In a unanimous decision the forum denied all of Yogaville’s claims and concluded, “It is crystal clear that Respondent is using the disputed domain names for legitimate noncommercial or fair use.”

One panelist of the National Arbitration Forum said he would have found Yogaville guilty of “Reverse Domain Name Hijacking,” if the Chengs had counter-claimed. He described the ashram’s purchase of various and similar domain names as a “bad faith effort to use the Policy as a crude club to suppress legitimate, protected, First Amendment speech.”

This resounding “slap down” victory for the Chengs sets an important precedent regarding free expression on the Internet.

Thanks to the complete failure of Yogaville’s complaint, other groups and/or organizations will now find such claims of trademark infringement an increasingly difficult strategy to employ as a scheme to block easy access to critical information on the Internet.


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