April 14, 2009— -- Goldman Sachs is locking horns with a blogger, who is determined to draw more public scrutiny to the investment giant.
Lawyers for Goldman, which yesterday reported better-than-expected profits of $1.66 billion for the first three months of 2009, last week sent a cease-and-desist letter accusing Florida blogger Mike Morgan of trademark infringement and violations of the firm's intellectual property rights because of Morgan's Web sites: goldmansachs666.com and goldmansachs13.com. In turn, Morgan filed a lawsuit against Goldman in U.S. District Court Monday, asking the court to declare that he is using his domain names legally.
Morgan's goldmansachs666.com site includes posts with such titles as "Is Goldman Sachs Manipulating the Stock Market? -- It Sure Looks Like It" and "Did Goldman Sachs Scam the System with AIG?"
In an interview with ABCNews.com, Morgan, a registered investment adviser who said he once consulted for Goldman on real estate issues, said the firm is trying to shut him down for reasons that extend beyond alleged trademark infringement.
"They don't want Web sites out there that are saying the truth about them," Morgan said. "They don't want the truth out there."
Among Morgan's gripes with Goldman: that the firm did not return some $13 billion in payments it took from bailed-out insurance giant American International Group; that it was among the firms to create derivatives -- complex investments being blamed for much of today's financial mess; that it made contributions to the campaigns of President Obama and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.; and that it has taken advantage of other connections to high-ranking government officials, including former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who joined the Bush administration after serving as the chief executive of Goldman Sachs.
Morgan said he is amassing volunteers, including former Goldman employees, to take a closer look at Goldman's dealings in derivatives.
Goldman Sachs declined to offer comment on Morgan's blog posts.
"We always act to protect our firm. This is not about Mr. Morgan's rights to express his views; it is about his infringement on our trademark," the firm said in an e-mailed statement.
Goldman's Fight: Is It Worth It?
Morgan argues that Goldman can't argue trademark infringement because he is not using the site for commercial purposes.
Trademark litigation lawyer William G. Pecau, who is not involved in the Goldman case, agrees.
As long as Morgan isn't trying to make money off the site and he's not claiming that the site is somehow affiliated with Goldman, "generally there's not a lot you can do about it," Pecau, a partner at the law firm of Steptoe & Johnson, said.
Morgan is no stranger to Internet-related trademark battles. Several years ago, Morgan, who is also a real estate broker, was sued by Miami-based homebuilder Lennar Corp for using a Web site to post criticism of Lennar-built homes. Lennar accused Morgan of trademark infringement and of defaming the company.
Lennar and Morgan eventually settled out of court.
Goldman is not unique in facing attacks from bloggers and independent Web sites: Chase Bank, Wal-mart, AllState Insurance and Verizon, among others, are all subject to criticism on so-called "gripe sites."
Paul Levy of Public Citizen Litigation Group, a public interest law firm, says that fighting the sites can have an unintended effect -- a company's attempt to shut down a gripe site can generate news coverage that ultimately benefits the gripe site.
"My guess is that there's more attention paid to the criticism of Goldman Sachs on the Web site than before," Levy said.