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Four more ICANN 40 sponsors revealed

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2011, Domain Policy

Iron Mountain, IronDNS, RegistryPro and the Public Interest Registry have added their names to the list of companies prepared to fork out big bucks to sponsor ICANN’s San Francisco meeting.

That brings the total number of ICANN 40 sponsors revealed so far to five, after VeriSign’s unprecedented $500,000 “Diamond” deal.

The new sponsors have splashed out more modest fees. Of the six tiers of sponsorship available, all four have opted for least expensive two.

Iron Mountain, IronDNS and RegistryPro have all chosen the same tiers as they have before, but they are likely paying more since ICANN has doubled its list prices since last year.

Meanwhile, .org manager PIR has downgraded to a $25,000 “Silver” package, having been a “Gold” sponsor at the Cartagena meeting.

The deadline for signing sponsorship deals and handing over artwork is February 15.

Renew a domain, lose a UDRP?

Kevin Murphy, February 2, 2011, Domain Policy

Renewing a domain name could land you in hot water if you’re hit with a UDRP complaint, if some current thinking at the National Arbitration Forum gains traction.

In the recent NAF decision over FreeGeek.com, panelists argued that if a domain was not originally registered in bad faith (because no trademark existed at the time) renewing the domain after a trademark had been obtained could nevertheless be used to demonstrate bad faith.

Showing that a disputed domain was registered and used in bad faith is of course one of the three pillars of UDRP.

Free Geek Inc runs its web site at freegeek.org. It wanted the .com equivalent, which was registered in 2001, six years before the company acquired a US trademark on its brand.

FreeGeek.com is owned by by Kevin Ham’s company, Vertical Axis. The registration has been renewed every year since 2001.

The three NAF panelists were split on whether renewals post-2007 should be considered evidence of bad faith.

Two of the panelists agree that Respondent should be charged with exercising some diligence at renewal to determine if there are outstanding marks which conflict; one does not.

That’s a disturbing statement, if you’re interested in registrant rights – two panelists basically want domain investors to relinquish their domains if somebody else subsequently acquires a trademark.

What’s more, the panelists’ position appears to be based on a dodgy interpretation of recent UDRP precedent. The decision goes on to say:

The Chair of the Panel is concerned that the Respondent renewed its registration after the trademark was applied for and the USPTO registered the mark. In RapidShare AG and Christian Schmid v. Fantastic Investment Limited… a panel in which the Chair participated, found that “bad faith” could include renewal of a domain name after the issuance of the mark.

It’s a dodgy interpretation because the referenced case, rapidshare.net, does not in fact discuss renewals at all.

In that case, bad faith was actually shown to have arisen due to the domain (which had survived a UDRP just a few months earlier) being bought by a new registrant, not due to a renewal.

What we seem to have here is a case of a couple of NAF panelists thinking about trying to expand the scope of the UDRP. There’s a ton of precedent concluding that renewals are not relevant when establishing whether a domain was registered in bad faith.

With that in mind, you’d think the case would have been a slam-dunk win for the complainant. Not so.

In fact, Ham prevailed on the basis that he had acquired rights to the domain by simply parking it, which constituted a legitimate commercial use.

This panel, in contrast to other panels, finds that the use of this model and evidence of the use is enough to justify a factual finding that Respondent has used the name for commercial purposes

Respondent has clearly demonstrated that it acquired rights in the name by usage even if the usage has been limited to a “pay-per-click” links page. Such usage does not itself signal a lack of rights and legitimate interests and can constitute a bona fide offering of goods or services according to Policy

If there are any recent UDRP cases that show just how random a process it is, this is the one.

UDRP tip: put your domain in the Whois

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2011, Domain Policy

If you’re fighting off a bogus UDRP complaint on one of your domain names, the onus is on you to prove that you have “rights and legitimate interests” in the domain.

That could be tricky, especially if you think you may been assigned a panelist with a pro-complainant bent, but there may be some ways to mitigate the risk of losing your domain.

Take this recent case, for example: PissedConsumer.com versus ThePissedOffConsumer.com.

The panelist determined that the registrant of ThePissedOffConsumer.com had no “rights and legitimate interests”on the grounds that a) it was competing with the complainant, b) the web site used the same color (red) as the complainant and c) the registrant was not known by the domain.

Ignoring the first two (highly debatable) findings, let’s look at c). The panelist wrote:

Complainant alleges that Respondent has never used a company name “The Pissed-Off Consumer” in connection with operation of any business activities. The WHOIS information for the disputed domain name lists the registrant of the domain as “John Cross.”

The Panel finds, based on the evidence in the record, that Respondent is not commonly known by the disputed domain name, and as such lacks rights and legitimate interests in the said name

In other words, because Whois showed the name of the registrant, rather than the name of the domain, the registrant was not “commonly known” as the domain and lacked rights.

To add insult to injury, the complainant was assumed to have earned the right to the mark “Pissed Consumer” before it had officially acquired a trademark (and before the disputed domain was registered) simply by virtue of operating PissedConsumer.com, despite the fact that it hides behind Whois privacy and is called Consumer Opinion Corp.

Presumably, if Cross had simply added the text “ThePissedOffConsumer” to his Whois record, the panelist would have had one less data point “in the record” to justify his finding.

In fringe UDRP cases, that could prove a useful defensive tactic.

TorrentReactor.net wins TorrentReactor.com case

Kevin Murphy, January 21, 2011, Domain Policy

The World Intellectual Property Organization has handed the domain name TorrentReactor.com to the owner of TorrentReactor.net, one of the internet’s most-popular BitTorrent movie piracy sites.

Really.

TorrentReactor.net owner Alexey Kistenev filed a UDRP complaint over the .com version with WIPO last year and won it earlier this month.

It was actually the second time he had taken the domain to arbitration.

Kistenev’s first complaint was dismissed by WIPO in March 2009, on the grounds that he did not have a valid trademark.

A month later, he applied for a US trademark on “TorrentReactor”, which was granted in July last year, and the UDRP was refiled in October.

In the latest case, Kistenev was helped by not only the fact that he now owns the trademark but also the fact that the domain has changed hands since the original complaint.

I wonder how much the current owner paid. In 2008, the then-owner had tried to sell it to Kistenev for $150,000. When he countered with a $30,000 offer, the owner asked for $50,000.

TorrentReactor.net is a page-one Google hit for searches including [torrent movies] and [torrent music].

Its front page contains links to torrents of recent, copyrighted movies such as The Social Network, Red and Let Me In, as well as new software, TV shows and music.

What we seem to have here is a case of WIPO indirectly helping piracy.

I guess it shows that WIPO arbitration panels can apply the UDRP uniformly when they want to.

Red Bull files UDRP after domain expires

Kevin Murphy, January 17, 2011, Domain Policy

Energy drink maker Red Bull has filed a UDRP complaint over the domain name red-bull.com, which until recently it actually owned.

It’s moderately embarrassing, but not unheard of, for companies to turn to the UDRP after domains they allow to expire are then snapped up by squatters.

What makes the complaint unusual is that the domain red-bull.com is not an obscure fringe case – it’s virtually identical to the company’s trademark and to its primary domain, redbull.com.

Also, according to Whois records, Red Bull also appears to use MarkMonitor, the brand-protection registrar, for its domain name needs.

Whois history shows that Red Bull acquired the domain in about 2005, but allowed it to expire in September 2010, after which it was quickly acquired by a third party.

Did Red Bull deliberately allow it to expire? There’s a case to be made for rationalizing defensive registration portfolios to reduce costs, but this domain would seem (to me) to be a definite keeper.

MarkMonitor has a policy of declining to comment on clients, which it chose to exercise when I inquired.

The domain red-bull.com currently resolves to what can only be described as a splog. It shows up on page two of Google for the search [red bull], which may go some way to explaining the UDRP.

Red Bull acquired red-bull.net, red-bull.cc and red-bull.tv via UDRP proceedings between 2001 and 2004, but has since allowed all three, as well as the .org, which it also owned, to expire.

The .tv and .net versions are currently parked, meaning they don’t rank so well in search engines.

It’s not the first odd UDRP Red Bull has filed. Last year, it lost a UDRP complaint despite winning a court case over the same domain name, as I reported in June.