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Panel hands .sucks squatter a WIN, but encourages action against the registry

A UDRP panel has denied a complaint against .sucks cybersquatter Honey Salt on a technicality, but suggested that aggrieved trademark holders instead sic their lawyers at the .sucks registry itself.

The three-person World Intellectual Property Organization panel threw out a complaint about six domains — covestro.sucks, lundbeck.sucks, rockwool.sucks, rockfon.sucks, grodan.sucks, tedbaker.sucks, tedbaker-london.sucks, and tedbakerlondon.sucks — filed jointly by four separate and unrelated companies.

The domains were part of the same operation, in which Turks & Caicos-based Honey Salt registers trademarks as .sucks domains and points them at Everything.sucks, a wiki-style site filled with content scraped from third-party sites.

Honey Salt has lost over a dozen UDRP cases since Everything.sucks emerged last year.

But the WIPO panel dismissed the latest case without even considering the merits, due to the fact that the four complainants had consolidated their grievances into a single complaint in an apparent attempt at a “class action”.

The decision reads:

although the Complainants may have established that the Respondent has engaged in similar conduct as to the individual Complainants, which has broadly-speaking affected their legal rights in a similar fashion, the Complainants do not appear to have any apparent connection between the Complainants. Rather it appears that a number of what can only realistically be described as separate parties have filed a single claim (in the nature of a purported class-action) against the Respondent, arising from similar conduct. As the Panel sees it, the Policy does not support such class actions

The panel decided that to force the respondent to file a common response to these complaints would be unfair, even if it is on the face of it up to no good.

Making a slippery-slope argument, the panel suggested that to allow class actions might open up the possibility of mass UDRP complaints against, for example, domain parking companies.

So the case was tossed without the merits being formally considered (though the panel certainly seemed sympathetic to the complainants).

But the sting in the tale comes at the end: the panel allowed that the complainants may re-file separate complaints, but also suggested they invoke the Trademark Post Delegation Dispute Resolution Procedure.

That’s interesting because the Trademark PDDRP, an ICANN policy administered by WIPO and others, is a way to complain about the behavior of the registry, not the registrant.

It’s basically UDRP for registries.

The registry for .sucks domains is Vox Populi, part of the Momentous group of companies. It’s denied a connection to Honey Salt, which uses Vox sister company Rebel for its registrations.

According to ICANN: “The Trademark PDDRP generally addresses a Registry Operator’s complicity in trademark infringement on the first or second level of a New gTLD.”

Complainants under the policy much show by “clear and convincing evidence” that the registry operator or its affiliates are either doing the cybersquatting themselves or encouraging others to do so.

There’s no hiding behind shell companies in tax havens — the policy accounts for that.

The trick here would be to prove that Honey Salt is connected to Vox Pop or the Momentous group.

Nothing is known about the ownership of Honey Salt, though Whois records and UDRP decisions identify a person, quite possibly a bogus name, as one “Pat Honeysalt”, who has no digital fingerprint to speak of.

The most compelling piece of evidence linking Honey Salt to Vox is gleaned by following the money.

The current business model is for Everything.sucks to offer Honey Salt’s domains for “free” by publishing transfer authorization codes right there on the squatted domain.

But anyone attempting to claim these names will still have to pay a registrar — such as Rebel — a transfer/registration fee that could be in excess of $2,000, most or all of which flows through to Vox Pop.

If we ignore the mark-up charged by non-Rebel registrars, the only party that appears to be profiting from Honey Salt’s activities appears to be the .sucks registry itself, in other words.

On its web site, Everything.sucks says it’s a non-profit and makes the implausible claim that it’s just a big fan of .sucks domains. Apparently it’s a fan to the extent that it’s prepared to spend millions registering the names and giving them away for free.

An earlier Everything.sucks model saw the domains listed at cost price on secondary market web sites.

The Trademark PDDRP, which appears to be tailor-made for this kind of scenario, has not to my knowledge been used to date. Neither WIPO nor ICANN have ever published any decisions delivered under it.

It costs complainants as much as $30,500 for a three-person panel with WIPO and has a mandatory 30-day period during which the would-be complainant has to attempt to resolve the issue privately with the registry.

The six domains in the UDRP case appear to have all gone into early “pending delete” status since the decision was delivered and do not resolve.

Everything.sucks publishes transfer auth codes for thousands of domains in latest .sucks pimpage

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2021, Domain Registries

Everything.sucks, which is quickly emerging as one of the world’s most prominent organized cybersquatting projects, has a novel new way to sell .sucks domains without, technically, selling them.

The company, which casts itself as a “non-profit organization and communications forum for social activism” has published the transfer authorization codes for what appears to be the thousands of .sucks domains in its portfolio.

This means that anyone can transfer any of the company’s .sucks domains into their own registrar account with just a few clicks and without asking the current registrant — if they can afford the exorbitant transfer fee and don’t mind legal exposure.

You may recall that Everything.sucks is a Wikipedia-style web site that is fed by traffic from thousands of .sucks domains that, as the company freely admits, match the trademarks of famous companies.

Typing poptarts.sucks into your browser address bar will take you to the Everything.sucks wiki pages for Pop-Tarts, which contains content critical of the brand scraped from third-party web sites.

Everything.sucks emerged last year, and in October I reported that hundreds of .sucks domains were pointing there.

At the time, the web site carried banner ads on each brand’s page that took visitors to secondary-market sales pages at Sedo or Uniregistry, where the price was usually the same as the .suck’s registry’s wholesale price of $200.

I thought it was weird that a registrant at the very least flirting with cybersquatting would put up their domains at cost price, but Vox Populi, the registry, denied any involvement with the domains.

The registrant of these names, according to several UDRP decisions that it lost, is a probably fictitious individual named Pat Honeysalt, from a company called Honey Salt Ltd based in either Turks & Caicos or the UK.

Honey Salt has told UDRP panels that it registers the names on behalf of Everything.sucks. Given the volume of registrations, it must have spent many millions of dollars.

In any event, shortly after the UDRP cases started trickling in and not long after DI’s initial coverage, the banner ads on the .sucks pages disappeared.

And now, the auth codes have appeared. It looks like this:

Poptarts

Publishing auth codes right there on its web site appears to be the latest stage in a cat-and-mouse game Everything.sucks is playing with the trademark lawyers pursuing it through the UDRP process.

The boilerplate reads:

We occasionally buy a dot sucks domain and point it at a specific page. We do this to bring awareness to our site and because, well, we love the dot sucks domain. If you ask us if we would sell the domain, our answer is simple. Absolutely not. We will give it to you.

It’s not technically offering to sell these domains any more, right? As far as this nominal non-profit is concerned, it’s giving them away for free to anyone who wants them, including the brand’s owner.

But if you want the names, you’ve still got to pay for the transfer, of course. In the case of poptarts.sucks, it’s $2,399 at the registrar screen-capped below. Another registrar has the same name priced at $2,599.99.

Poptarts

If we’re following the money here, the only beneficiaries that spring to mind are Vox Pop, which gets its fat-margin registry fee, and the hapless registrar, which gets whatever its markup on a .sucks domain transfer is.

I tried these auth codes at six leading registrars and found that four of their shopping carts informed me point-blank that they do not support .sucks transfers at all.

Everything.sucks, in losing UDRPs, puts the lie to the .sucks business model

The World Intellectual Property Organization has delivered its first UDRP decision concerning a .sucks domain name, ruling that the name sanofi.sucks is in fact cybersquatting.

The three-person panel ruled that the domain was identical or confusingly similar to a trademark owned by Sanofi, a French pharmaceuticals manufacturer involved in producing vaccines for the COVID-19 virus.

That was despite the fact that the registrant, affiliated with the Everything.sucks project, argued that nobody would think a domain name ending in “.sucks” would be affiliated with the trademark owner.

That argument flies in the face of official .sucks registry marketing from Vox Populi Registry, which positions .sucks as a place for brand owners to consolidate and manage customer criticism, feedback and support.

The sanofi.sucks case is one of two UDRP losses in the last few weeks for Honey Salt, a Turks and Caicos-based company that is believed to account for over a third of all .sucks registrations.

Honey Salt has registered thousands of brand names in .sucks, linking them to a wiki site operated by Everything.sucks Inc that contains criticism of the brands concerned copied from third-party web sites such as TrustPilot and GlassDoor.

There’s evidence that Everthing.sucks and Honey Salt are affiliated or share common ownership with Vox Pop, but the registry has denied this.

In the Sanofi case, Honey Salt mounted a free speech defense, saying it was providing a platform for legitimate criticism of the company and that Sanofi was using the UDRP to silence such criticism.

Sanofi claimed that the domain had in fact been registered for commercial purposes and to unfairly suggest an official connection to the company.

But what’s interesting is how Honey Salt argues that the domain itself, regardless of the associated web site’s content, is not confusingly similar to the Sanofi mark. The WIPO panelsts wrote, with my added emphasis:

The Respondent maintains that the disputed domain name is not identical or confusingly similar to a trademark in which the Complainant has rights. According to it, the “.sucks” gTLD is not like other generic TLDs, and its pejorative nature renders the disputed domain name as a whole nonidentical and prevents confusion, and the inclusion of “.sucks” in the disputed domain name makes clear that the associated website is not affiliated with the Complainant, but instead contains criticism of it and of its business.

In other words, if you visit a .sucks domain, you automatically will assume that the site is not associated with the brand owner.

Honey Salt seems to have made an identical argument in the UDRP case of cargotec.sucks, which it also lost at the Czech Arbitration Forum last month. The panelists in that decision summarized the company’s defense like this:

The TLD at issue here, however, .sucks, is not like other generic top level domains. Its pejorative nature renders the domain name as a whole nonidentical and prevents confusion… The inclusion of “.sucks” makes abundantly clear that the website is not affiliated with Complainant and instead contain criticism of its business.

Again, this is completely contrary to the stated goal of the .sucks registry.

Vox Pop has from the outset claimed that .sucks domains are a way for brands to aggregate customer feedback and criticism in one place, using a .sucks domain controlled by the brands themselves.

That purpose goes all the way back to its 2012 ICANN new gTLD application and continues to this day on its official web site and Twitter feed, which is primarily used to goad companies undergoing media controversies into registering and using their .sucks exact-match.

Back in 2015, Vox Pop CEO John Berard told us:

A company would be smart to register its name because of the value that consumer criticism has in improving customer loyalty, delivering good customer service, understanding new product and service possibilities… They’re spending a lot more on marketing and customer service and research. This domain can another plank in that platform

Vox Pop even owns and uses voxpopuli.sucks and dotsucks.sucks, where it hosts a little-used forum welcoming criticism from people who say the company sucks.

But Honey Salt, its largest registrant by a significant margin, is now on-record stating that .sucks domains only imply ownership by third parties and could not possibly be confused with brand-owner ownership.

If the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct, there exists a corner of the multiverse in which Honey Salt and Everything.sucks are just fronts for the entities that also control Vox Pop and its top registrar, Rebel.com. In that universe, it would be trippy indeed for the registry’s own affiliates to admit its entire stated business model is bullshit.

In our universe, that particular cat, which very probably has a goatee, is still firmly in the box, however.

Speculative forays into science fiction aside, Honey Salt’s record on UDRP is now three losses versus one win. It has six more cases pending at WIPO

Free speech, or bad faith? UDRP panels split on Everything.sucks domains

Kevin Murphy, October 22, 2020, Domain Policy

The first wave of UDPR cases targeting domains used by Everything.suck have seen split decisions by the panels.

At least four .sucks domains, all owned by the same Turks and Caicos company, have been hit by UDRP complaints recently, and two have already been decided.

One case, over the domain miraplex.sucks, resulted in victory for the registrant while the other, over bioderma.sucks, led to defeat and a transfer.

Both domains are owned by Honey Salt Ltd, and both redirect to a page on Everything.sucks, a Wikipedia-style site that uses content scraped from third-party sites and social media to present a scrappy form of gripe microsite.

In both UDRP cases, Honey Salt chose to mount a “free speech” defense, claiming that it had rights to the names because they were being used to publish criticism of the brands in question.

As I noted last week, UDRP panels have historically been divided on when this defense should be successful. WIPO guidance suggests that gripe sites should be permitted as long as the criticism is genuine and non-commercial.

But Everything.sucks was decidedly commercial at the time these two complaints were filed. Each site featured a banner leading to a page on Sedo or Uniregistry where the domain could be purchased (usually at registry wholesale prices).

Miraplex is a brand of Parkinson’s disease medicine. In this case, the panel decided that the complainant, a pharmaceuticals company, failed to make the case that Honey Salt had no legitimate interests in the domain, writing:

the Complainant argues that the website linked to the disputed domain name displays information about the Complainant and its MIRAPEX medicines, but failed to explain (let alone substantiate) why this should be regarded as a lack of rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name (which seems to have a criticism purpose). Also, the Panel finds that the offering for sale of a domain name is not by itself a proof of lack of rights or legitimate interests.

The panel seems to have given special consideration to the fact that it’s a .sucks domain, where one might expect to see criticism.

Given the nature of the “.sucks” domain name gTLD, and given the evidence (or lack of evidence) submitted by the parties, the Panel finds that the Complainant did not prove that the Respondent lacks rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name. In particular, the Panel would have expected the Complainant to target its arguments and evidence to the specific criticism-nature of “.sucks” domain names (which the Complainant failed to do).

The decision is written in such a way as to suggest that it is the complainant’s lack of substantiating evidence, rather than the panel’s gullibility, that is to blame for the complaint failing.

The Panel finds that the Respondent’s claim that the website available through the disputed domain name has a criticism purpose is not devoid of credibility. The Panel would have expected the Complainant to argue (and corroborate) why it considers this “.sucks” domain name and its purported free expression character as a “smoke screen” and why it is of the opinion that the predominant purpose of the Respondent is to sell this domain name rather than to provide a forum for discussion and criticism. The Complainant did not explain nor substantiate why it considers the criticism character of this website as a pretext. The Panel also finds that the offering of a domain name for sale is not by itself evidence of bad faith.

The bioderma.sucks case is an entirely different story, with the panel writing that Honey Salt’s “entire endeavour seems to the Panel to be a pretext for commercial activity”.

Honey Salt’s “pretext” is that it registers domain names on behalf of a non-profit entity called Everything Sucks Inc, which appears to have been formed in Delaware this April. It told the Miraplex panel that whenever a wiki page is created at Everything.sucks, it registers the corresponding domain name.

Given that over two thousand .sucks domains were registered in June in the space of a couple days, that seems unlikely to me.

The Bioderma panel wasn’t buying it either.

The process by which the disputed domain name was registered seems to be automatic and, importantly, took place before any criticism whatsoever was even present on the website (as may be inferred from the Parties’ evidence, namely the Complainant’s screenshot of June 24, 2020). The alleged criticism seems to have been added as an afterthought between that date and the date when the Response was filed, further calling its genuineness into question.

It also noted that the content of the site comes from third parties, rather than the registrant, again calling its genuineness into question. The panel added:

Even assuming a third party generated the page on the Respondent’s website in order to engage in non-commercial criticism, rather than the Respondent itself, the Respondent immediately proceeds to exploit the position commercially by registering and offering the disputed domain name for sale.

This blatant commercial use was important to the panel in establishing a lack of legitimate interests and also bad faith.

Respondent’s approach was to take unfair commercial advantage of the Complainant’s name and trademark while having no actual criticism or free speech of its own in which to engage. It looked to sell the disputed domain name on the open market before any criticism had even been published. The fact that the disputed domain name is used for a web page not containing genuine criticism content but only automatically generated links loosely related to the Complainant’s product (as demonstrated by the Complainant’s screenshot dating from before the filing of the present Complaint) constitutes further evidence of bad faith. The fact that the disputed domain name is used in a page containing links to other companies and where the relevant domain names (to which the links point) are systematically put on sale by the Respondent is additional evidence of cybersquatting.

The panel ordered bioderma.sucks transferred.

Two cases, two very different outcomes.

Both complaints were filed at the Czech Arbitration Court by the same lawyer within a few days of each other, and were decided within a week of each other, but by different three-person panels.

With this in mind, it seems likely that both panels were presented with a very similar set of facts and evidence, and that the make-up of the panel was important to which party emerged victorious.

Two additional cases, bfgoodrich.sucks and mandmdirect.sucks, both Honey Salt domains, are currently active at WIPO. It’s unclear whether they were filed before or after Everything.sucks removed its banner ads, which happened about a week ago.

That .sucks weirdness? Worse than I thought

Kevin Murphy, October 16, 2020, Domain Registries

A business plan to turn .sucks into a massive Wikipedia-style gripe site, described by trademark lawyers five years ago as a “shakedown”, has reared it ugly head again.

You may recall that earlier this week I reported how somebody had registered many hundreds of .sucks domain names and listed them for sale on secondary market web sites at cost price. It looked weird, almost as if the registry or an affiliate was the registrant, which the registry denied.

It turns out I only told you half the story, for which I can only apologize.

At the time, the domains in question were not resolving for me, probably due to my terrible, block-happy ISP. But now they are resolving, and they reveal the return of Everything.sucks, a plan first floated by the .sucks registry in 2015.

It’s a network of hundreds of .sucks micro gripe-sites, each targeted to a specific brand and each each populated with content scraped, usually without citation, from Wikipedia, social media, and consumer-review aggregator web sites.

Here’s where jackdaniels.sucks takes you, for example (click to enlarge).

Jack Daniels sucks

The description of the company is taken from Wikipedia. The customer comments below are taken from reviews of an apparently unrelated company called The Whisky Exchange published by TrustPilot, and the social media posts have been pulled from Instagram users deploying the hashtag #jackdanielssucks.

Other pages on the site seem to scrape content from GlassDoor, a site where employees review their employers.

While there’s nothing wrong with gripe sites, automating their creation over hundreds or even thousands of brands that you don’t genuinely have gripes with seems, charitably, churlish.

And these gripe sites are — or at least were — being monetized.

You’ll see a banner ad in the top-right corner of the above screen-grab, offering jackdaniels.sucks for sale. The link took you to a page on Sedo that offers the domain for sale with a buy-now price of $199 (the same as the registry’s wholesale fee).

Banners on other pages led to landers on GoDaddy-owned Uniregistry.com with prices of $599.

These banners, which appeared on every brand’s page that I checked, seem to have disappeared at some point over the last two days. I’m sure the change is unrelated to the fact that I started asking .sucks registry Vox Populi and parent Momentous difficult questions about these trademark-match domains on Wednesday.

While UDRP panels have disagreed over the years, there’s precedent dating back two decades that “trademarksucks.tld” domains with sites that contain genuine, non-commercial criticism can confer legitimate rights to the registrant and are therefore NOT cybersquatting.

I doubt a site that actively tries to sell the domain name in question for above out-of-pocket costs could be considered non-commercial.

Still, it looks like those banners are gone now, and I can’t find any other examples of obvious monetization.

I use jackdaniels.sucks as an example here as it’s the site I took a screenshot of before the changes, but there are many hundreds of similar trademark-match domains being used to feed traffic to Everything.sucks.

I note that unitedinternet.sucks, named after the parent company of Sedo, is for sale for $199 on Sedo and leads to a gripe site on Everything.sucks containing less-than-complimentary remarks. It’s for sale at $599 on Uniregistry.

But who is Everything.sucks?

The concept itself originates with the .sucks registry itself. Before the TLD launched in 2015, it floated the idea to a tsunami of criticism from trademark owners.

The plan back then was to sell .sucks domains for .com prices — a discount of a couple hundred dollars — but only to registrants unaffiliated with the trademark owner. These registrants would have had to forward their domains to an Everything.sucks-branded discussion forum.

Back then, Vox Pop said it planned to work with a non-for-profit third party on this initiative.

That third party never materialized, and later in 2015 appeared to mutate into a system called This.sucks, operated by a company called This.sucks Ltd, which took over the Everything.sucks domain name.

This.sucks sold .sucks domains for $12 a year, with the domains pointing to a forum/blogging platform that the company hoped to monetize.

Both This.sucks and Vox Pop denied there was any link between the two companies, but I later uncovered a lot of compelling circumstantial evidence linking the two companies, including the fact that Rob Hall, CEO of Vox Pop parent Momentous, paid for This.sucks’ web site design.

This.sucks appears to have fizzled out in the intervening years, but now Everything.sucks is back with a mystery registrant snapping up thousands of domains, at a cost of at least half a million bucks, under the Everything.sucks brand.

Public Whois is useless nowadays, of course.

But the front page of Everything.sucks describes it as “a non-profit organization and communications forum for social activism”.

Many of the domains that redirect to its site appear to be registered to a Turks and Caicos company called Honey Salt Ltd, a name that does not naturally suggest a non-profit entity.

Others use Momentous’ domain privacy service. All appear to be registered via Momentous-owned registrar Rebel, which sells .sucks domains at cost and is therefore one of the cheapest registrars on the market.

Back in 2015, intellectual property interests expressed doubt that the proposed Everything.sucks third party and the This.sucks third party were not in fact just smokescreens, fronts for the registry itself.

Vox Pop CEO John Berard on Wednesday denied to DI that the company had any involvement in the recent spurt of trademark-match registrations being used by Everything.sucks and expressed a lack of knowledge about the registrant’s intent.

I’ve not yet received comment from Momentous, but I’d be very surprised if the company does not know who is behind Everything.sucks.

At the very least, Vox Pop and Rebel are both privy to the unexpurgated Whois and/or customer records for whoever is running Everything.sucks and whoever it is that has grown the .sucks zone file by about 50% since June.

Company to offer .sucks domains at .com prices

Kevin Murphy, October 9, 2015, Domain Registries

A new company says it is going to sell .sucks domain names, which usually retail for around $250, for as little as $12 a year.

This.sucks Inc, which says it is not affiliated with the registry, is even planning to give away 10,000 names for free.

That’s a hell of a cost to cover — the .sucks registry fee is $199 for most names or $1,999 for names, including brands, that have been marked as premium.

A 10,000-name giveaway would cost close to $2 million per year, in other words.

But This.sucks isn’t a registrar. Instead, it wants to tie its customers in to its forum and blogging platform, which will be monetized in some way.

Spokesperson Phil Armstrong told us “our plan is to create new revenue streams from different sources, including possibly advertising.” He said:

Our goal is to build a business around giving consumers affordable and easy access to these expressive web addresses, and we’ll work with different registrars to get the best price. We think we can create a large, sustainable community that over time will generate income well above the initial costs of the registrations.

There are good reasons to believe that the company is in fact the “Consumer Advocate Subsidy” provider that .sucks registry Vox Populi promised would be launching in September.

Vox Pop said in March that the subsidizing entity — which would be an unaffiliated company — would offer .sucks domains with attached forum sites for around $10 a year.

The proposed name of the service was “Everything.sucks” — a domain now owned by This.sucks Inc that redirects to this.sucks.

But Vox Pop CEO John Berard said that This.sucks was “just another registrant” and that it was “not a registry service”.

Armstrong said: “We are not related to anything Vox Populi is doing. Not sure what they are up to, but hopefully they’ll be excited about what we are doing.”

The company’s mailing address appears to be a UPS store at a small strip mall in New York state.

The this.sucks service is currently in invitation-only beta testing “for individuals with a passion”.

There’s a sister site with a virtually identical design and mission statement at this.rocks.

In a fact sheet, This.sucks says:

At both This.Rocks and This.Sucks consumers will be able to pick the name of companies, products, people and causes they want to be the focus of the commentary and conversation. With the web address of their choosing, they will be able to moderate a blog or forum to talk about the issues, initiatives and interests that stir their passions.

The goal is to encourage individual consumers to give voice to their points-­of-­view and make it easy for like­‐minded people to join the conversation, much like Reddit for general topics, Slash/Dot for technology, CafePharma in the ethical drug industry, and Glassdoor for job seekers and employers.