The lawsuit, filed in California last week, claims that a family of known cybersquatters, based in Guangdong, is trying to have the purchase invalidated by a Chinese court. The company, which acquired Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, wants the court to rule that the domain deal was legal, preventing the cybersquatters retaking control of the domain. Photo-sharing app Instagram launched in October 2010 using the domain instagr.am. At that time, instagram.com was owned by a US-based domain investor, but it was bought by Zhou Weiming about a month later.
Zhou, Facebook says, was the now-dead father of three of the people it is suing, and the husband of the fourth. When Zhou purchased the domain, Instagram had become wildly popular, well on the way to hitting the million-user mark in December 2010. Instagram had applied for the US trademark on its name in September 2010, less than a month before its launch. The company made the decision to pay $100,000 for the domain in January 2011. The Whois information for instagram.com changed from Zhou Weiming to Zhou Murong, apparently his daughter, around about the same time, though the registrant email address did not change.
The purchase was processed by Sedo, according to a copy of the deal filed as evidence. Now, Murong’s mother and sisters are suing her and Instagram in China, claiming she did not have the authority to sell the domain, according to Facebook’s complaint. Facebook claims the Chinese suit is a “sham” and that the whole Zhou family is acting in concert. The company wants the California court to declare that the sale was valid, and that registrar MarkMonitor should not be forced to transfer the domain back to the Zhous. Facebook in 2014 won a 22-domain UDRP case against Murong Zhou, related to typos of its Instagram trademark.back