Cybersquatting cases filed under the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy have become less predictable, judging from complex new guidelines for adjudication panels.
The World Intellectual Property Organization has just published WIPO Overview 2.0, which sets out over 10 years of UDRP precedent for panelists to consider when deciding future cases.
The document is a must-read for domain investors and trademark holders.
Updated for the first time since 2005, it contains new sections covering developments such as registrar parking, automatically generated advertising and proxy/privacy services.
The Overview has quadrupled in length, from 5,000 to 20,000 words. With that, has come increased complexity. WIPO notes:
While predictability remains a key element of dispute resolution systems, neither this WIPO Overview nor prior panel decisions are binding on panelists, who will make their judgments in the particular circumstances of each individual proceeding.
The document reflects decisions already made, rather than creating new law, but as such it also reflects the tilting balance of the UDRP in favor of complainants.
For example, while the 2005 guidelines presented majority and minority views on whether [trademark]sucks.com domains meet the “confusing similarity” criterion, Overview 2.0 presents only a “consensus view” that they do, suggesting that it is now settled law.
On whether parking a domain with PPC ads meets the “legitimate interests” criterion, the guidelines refer to precedent saying that the ads must not capitalize on a trademark:
As an example of such permissible use, where domain names consisting of dictionary or common words or phrases support posted PPC links genuinely related to the generic meaning of the domain name at issue, this may be permissible and indeed consistent with recognized sources of rights or legitimate interests under the UDRP, provided there is no capitalization on trademark value
Supporting this view, the Overview states that “bad faith” can be shown even if the domain owner does not control the content of their parked pages and makes no money from the ads:
Panels have found that a domain name registrant will normally be deemed responsible for content appearing on a website at its domain name, even if such registrant may not be exercising direct control over such content – for example, in the case of advertising links appearing on an “automatically” generated basis… It may not be necessary for the registrant itself to have profited directly under such arrangement
There is a defense to this, if the respondent can show they had no knowledge of the complainant’s trademark and made no effort to control or profit from the ads.
Because the UDRP calls for “registration and use in bad faith”, the guidelines also ask: “Can bad faith be found if the disputed domain name was registered before the trademark was registered or before unregistered trademark rights were acquired?”
The original guidelines said no, with a carve-out for cases where the squatter anticipated, for example, a future corporate merger (microsoftgoogle.com) or product release (ipad4.com).
The new guidelines are a lot less clear, calling it a “developing area of UDRP jurisprudence”. The document lists several cases where panelists have chosen to essentially set aside the registration date and concentrate instead just on bad faith usage.
The question of whether a renewed domain counts as a new registration is also addressed, and also has a couple of exceptions to give panelists more flexibility in the decisions.
The Overview covers a lot of ground – 46 bullet points compared to 26 in the first version – and will no doubt prove invaluable reading for people filing or fighting UDRP cases.
The guidelines are not of course set in stone. The 2005 version read:
The UDRP does not operate on a strict doctrine of precedent. However, panels consider it desirable that their decisions are consistent with prior panel decisions dealing with similar fact situations. This ensures that the UDRP system operates in a fair, effective and predictable manner for all parties
But the new version adds a caveat to the end of the sentence: “while responding to the continuing evolution of the domain name system.”
Too many ideas, not enough time.
These are some of the stories I would have covered today, if only there were more hours in the day.
There’s at least 15 stupidly obscure in-jokes there. Probably more. How many did you “get” without Googling?
15 – Congratulations! You’re me. Or a potential future spouse. Call me!
10-14 – You truly are a domain name industry nerd, the depth and breadth of your knowledge covering both domaining and ICANN politicking. You’ve probably been to ICANN meetings and DomainFest. You should be both immensely proud and profoundly ashamed of yourself.
6-10 – I’m proud to have you as a reader. You’re exactly the type of well-balanced individual I’m hoping to attract to this site. Why not try visiting one of my advertisers and purchasing something?
1-5 – Must try harder! Your insight into the industry is sadly lacking. Perhaps consider subscribing to my RSS and Twitter feeds, which can be found at at the top of the left-hand sidebar, in order to bulk up your knowledge base.
0 – You appear to have visited this blog by mistake. Were you searching for “group porn”? I get a lot of hits for that. Nothing to see here, please move along.
The World Intellectual Property Organization handled more cybersquatting cases in 2010 than in any other year to date, according to just-released statistics.
WIPO said today it received 2,696 UDRP complaints last year, up 28% over 2009′s 2,107 cases.
But the number of domains covered by these cases actually slipped a little, from 4,688 to 4,370, according to WIPO.
Since the policy was created in 1999, WIPO says it has decided over 20,000 UDRP complaints, covering over 35,000 domain names in 65 TLDs.
It may sound like a lot, but it’s actually a vanishingly small percentage of the 205.3 million domain names that are registered across all TLDs today.
The forthcoming .xxx top-level domain will have some of the strictest abuse policies yet, including a super-fast alternative to the UDRP for cybersquatting cases.
With ICM Registry likely to sign its registry contract with ICANN soon, I thought I’d take another look at some of its planned policies.
I’d almost forgotten how tight they were.
Don’t expect much privacy
ICM plans to verify your identity before you register a .xxx domain.
While the details of how this will be carried out have not yet been revealed, I expect the company to turn to third-party sources to verify that the details entered into the Whois match a real person.
Registrants will also have to verify their email addresses and have their IP addresses recorded.
Whois privacy/proxy services offered by registrars will have to be pre-approved by ICM, “limited to services that have demonstrated responsible and responsive business practices”.
Registrants using such services will still have their full verified details stored by the registry, in contrast to TLDs such as .com, where the true identity of a registrant is only known to the proxy service.
None of these measures are foolproof, of course, but they would raise barriers to cybersquatting not found in other TLDs.
Really rapid suspension
The .xxx domain will of course abide by the UDRP when it comes to cybersquatting complaints, but it is planning another, far more Draconian suspension policy called Rapid Takedown.
Noting that “the majority of UDRP cases involve obvious variants of well-known trademarks”, ICM says it “does not believe that the clearest cases of abusive domain registration require the expense and time involved in traditional UDRP filings.”
The Rapid Takedown policy is modeled on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Trademark holders will be able to make a cybersquatting complaint and have it heard within 48 hours.
Complaints will comprise a “simple statement of a claim involving a well-known or otherwise inherently distinctive mark and a domain name for which no conceivable good faith basis exists”.
A “response team” of UDRP panelists will decide on that basis whether to suspend the domain, although it does not appear that ownership will be transferred as a result.
X strikes and you’re out
ICM plans to disqualify repeat cybersquatters from holding any .xxx domains, whether all their domains infringe trademarks or not.
The policy is not fully fleshed out, so it’s not yet clear how many infringing domains you’d have to own before you lose your .xxx privileges.
High-volume domain investors would therefore be advised to make sure they have clean portfolios, or risk losing their whole investment.
ICM plans to allow IP rights holders to buy long-term, deep-discount registrations for non-resolving .xxx domains. As I’ve written before, Disney doesn’t necessarily want disney.xxx to point anywhere.
That would obviously appeal to volume speculators who don’t fancy the $60-a-year registry fee, so the company plans to create a policy stating that non-resolving domains will not be able to convert to normal domains.
There’s also going to be something called the Charter Eligibility Dispute Resolution Process, which which “will be available to challenge any resolving registration to an entity that is not qualified to register a resolving name in the .xxx TLD”.
This seems to suggest that somebody (think: a well-funded church) who does not identify as a member of the porn industry would be at risk of losing their .xxx domains.
The CEDRP, like most of the abuse policies the registry is planning, has not yet been fully fleshed out.
I’m told ICM is working on that at the moment. In the meantime, its policy plans are outlined in this PDF.
The Free Speech Coalition has made good on its promise to start a boycott of .xxx domain names.
The California-based porn industry association has just launched a “Just Say NO” campaign, in an attempt to persuade pornographers that .xxx domains are bad for business.
Do the math – it doesn’t add up. Even if ICM’s claims of new consumers who “trust” .XXX ring true, for a company like Kink.com, which has approximately 10,000 domain names, it would have to bring in three-quarters of a million dollars in new revenues annually JUST TO BREAK EVEN!
As well as the retail price of the domains, which currently estimated to be north of $70 per year, the FSC has laid out a bunch of other reasons why it believes .xxx is a bad investment.
These include the fact that some countries (I’m aware of Saudi Arabia and India) have said they intend to block .xxx domains, and that this may make some high-traffic web sites wary of linking to them.
It’s also critical of how .xxx sites will have to comply with policies created by the International Foundation For Online Responsibility, which ICM is setting up to “sponsor” .xxx.
But perhaps the most telling quote in the FSC’s press release comes from its executive director, Diane Duke. She said:
FSC acknowledges and respects that, when push comes to shove, businesses need to do what they think is best for their company. That is why adult companies need to know the implications of purchasing .XXX domain names and why buying .XXX could be the worst investment they’ll ever make.
While FSC makes good points, I agree with Mike Berkens of TheDomains. I just can’t see a boycott working, and the end result may just be to just make FSC look naïve.
If you’re a pornographer, and you think there’s even an outside chance of .xxx taking off, would you risk declining to defensively register your brands on a matter of principle?
The cost of enforcing trademarks — if you have one — via the UDRP post-sunrise would be larger than simply registering them up-front, and there would be no guarantee of success.
It’s a big risk, one that I can’t see many potential registrants taking.
Some in the porn business even believe that some webmasters publicly decrying .xxx are doing so primarily to reduce competition for the premium real estate. Writing in Xbiz, Stephen Yagielowicz said:
some of your “friends” that are telling you to avoid the new adult domain extension, are speculators hoping to lessen the competition for premium .XXX names; while others are mere hucksters, seeking to profit by offering “an alternative TLD” — such as .adult, .porn, .sex or “dot-whatever-does-not-involve-Stuart-Lawley”