Who's on First?

In cyberspace, no one can hear you scream.
But that's not stopping Robert Lewis. The Web publisher has been howling bloody murder since Monday, when he learned that the Colorado Rockies have gone to court seeking a preliminary injunction that would essentially throw him out at home.

Home page, that is.
The Colorado Rockies Baseball Club is asking that Lewis be prohibited from "using in any fashion that is accessible or available for viewing by the public the name 'Daily Rockies Web,' or other name or designation that includes the defendant's registered trademark, 'ROCKIES,' or any name, designation or mark confusingly similar thereto"--never mind that Lewis has been publishing at since back in the days when the baseball team's owners still thought the Internet was some kind of hairspray.

The club is demanding that Lewis stop using "any logo consisting of a silhouette of mountains and/or a soaring baseball with or without the colors magenta, blue or purple, or any shade of such colors"--never mind that the actual Rocky Mountains, in all their purple majesty, were around long before baseball was invented.

The club also wants Lewis to cease "accompanying the home page of his Web site with audio consisting of baseball-related music or matter that suggests that the plaintiffs' Web site is connected to Rockies Baseball"--never mind that Robert Lewis is no relation to Huey Lewis or any of the other cheesy rock stars who keep Rockies fans bopping when the players keep popping out.

And while he's at it, the club suggests, Lewis should quit "using in the text of his Web site first-person pronouns or other misleading language that suggest that Lewis or the Web site is speaking for or sponsored by or affiliated with the Rockies"--never mind that, in this sad season, no one in his right mind would want to speak for the Rockies.

Oh yes, the baseball team wants lots more, much of it involving arcane Web technology that's still light years from any regulation. But most of all, they want Robert Lewis to disappear.

They want him to disappear, because they dropped the ball.
And he picked it up.
Lewis has been about as troublesome for the Rockies as their anemic bullpen. It started during that first Rockies season, when he insisted on distributing his Game Program outside Mile High Stadium. When the team moved to Coors Field, Lewis and his newspaper and cheap scorecard moved, too, to right outside the ballpark built with taxpayer dollars. In appreciation of Lewis's efforts, the team had him arrested three times--for huckstering and trespassing when he tried to sell his program on what he considered public rights-of-way.

Along with another independent publisher, Bert Matthews, Lewis filed a complaint against the Colorado Rockies and the Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District, the entity that built Coors Field with taxpayer money. They understood why they couldn't peddle their publications inside the stadium, the two publishers said, but they sure didn't understand why they kept getting popped for doing it outside the ballpark. This wasn't just a question of free enterprise, they argued; it was a matter of free speech.

In April 1996 Denver District Judge Herbert Stern agreed. "The streets and sidewalks and walkways around Coors Field are a public forum," he ruled. "The purpose of the restrictions is to maximize income. That purpose is not a legitimate goal in the free-speech area."

The Rockies appealed the decision, and last month the Colorado Supreme Court again ruled in the publishers' favor. "We find that the ability of the Rockies to generate revenue in these disputed areas is no more significant than that of the publishers," the court determined. And in their unanimous decision, the seven justices reaffirmed the notion that public walkways are "public forum property under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution."

Through their attorney, Tom Kelley, the Rockies acknowledged their loss. "The team's ownership is disappointed," Kelley said, "but satisfied that the issue has been resolved by the state's highest court."

So satisfied, in fact, that the owners waited a whole month before taking another swing at Lewis.

This time, though, they moved the fight out of the ballpark: to cyberspace.
Long before the Supreme Court ruled on his case, Lewis had ventured into relatively uncharted--legally, at least--territory: the World Wide Web. His Storefronts in Cyberspace started assorted Web pages in 1995, including one devoted to the Colorado Rockies; the business took off fast enough that he soon abandoned printed publications altogether. Lewis was so hot on the Internet that he even offered to help the team set up its own page, but the Rockies weren't interested. They told him that people wouldn't go to a computer to read about baseball every day. "They knew what I was doing," Lewis says. "They were clueless...until they realized what I have."

What he had was a right to the electronic address so, of course, a headstart on anyone else who would want to take the baseball team onto the World Wide Web.

That wasn't the only domain name that Lewis had been quick enough to claim. He also grabbed, and --which became the focus of another play in court. Lewis charges that the Colorado Rockies forced Rocky Mountain Internet to bump him off their server and that RMI in turn gave away the address; last September, Lewis's Storefronts in Cyberspace filed suit against both.

It's in a counterclaim to that suit that the Rockies are asking for an injunction against Lewis and And Kelley, who used to have a reputation as the region's most ardent defender of the First Amendment, is leading the charge.

Is the First Amendment out at first just because a baseball publication's moved to the Internet?

Lewis doesn't see the Rockies demanding that other newspapers stop using the color purple, or reproducing the team's logo, or putting out their own guides to the baseball season. "I'm a maverick," he says. "I'm a maverick publisher. I consider myself a maverick Web publisher. I'm an independent kind of guy. I'm not using the word 'unofficial.' If they can't make the Denver Post do it, the Rocky Mountain News do it, Westword do it, I'm not going to do it."

Currently, his site carries this identification: "The independent daily newspaper about Colorado Rockies Baseball."

You might think that would be enough--but you'd be underestimating the economic greed of this team, which has fought with vendors over ventures literally worth peanuts. And you'd be underestimating the enmity this team has toward Lewis, the man it has ordered arrested three times--for exercising his First Amendment rights on a public right-of way outside a ballpark built with public money.

Lewis vows to fight on. "The Colorado Rockies can't arrest me while I'm in cyberspace," he points out.

And the game continues. Before you vote to extend the tax that built Coors Field for the Rockies and commit to spending $180 million to replace a perfectly good stadium with a monument to Pat Bowlen, consider this: Lewis has also staked a claim to the address

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun