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(Former) Donuts director hit with cybersquatting claim over Disney and Olympic domains

Kevin Murphy, August 7, 2012, Domain Policy

Donuts, the massive new gTLD applicant, has been hit by another set of cybersquatting claims, this time aimed at one of the company’s original directors.

Graham Stirling, who is listed as a Donuts Inc director in the company’s only Securities and Exchange Commission filing, seems to own several domain names containing Disney and Olympics trademarks.

(UPDATE: Donuts has confirmed that Stirling is no longer with the company, and hasn’t been since November 2011. Read the company’s full statement at the bottom of this post.)

The information emerged in a comment filed with ICANN on several Donuts applications by somebody called James Oliver Warner.

These are some of the domains Gibraltar-based Stirling allegedly owns:

2016juegosolimpicos.com
2016olimpicos.com
2020juegosolimpicos.com
2020olimpicos.com
2024olimpicos.com
andaluciadisney.com
costadelsoldisney.com
disneyandalucia.com
disneylandmalaga.com
disneymalaga.com
disneyworldmalaga.com
juegosolimpicos2008.com
juegosolimpicos2016.com
juegosolimpicos2020.com
juegosolimpicos2024.com
juegosolimpicoslondres.com
londresjuegosolimpicos.com
malagadisney.com
malagadisneyland.com
malagadisneyworld.com
olimpicos2016.com
olimpicos2020.com
olimpicos2024.com
soldisney.com
spaindisneyland.com
spaindisneyworld.com
teleubbies.com

You don’t need to be a trademark lawyer to know that these domains would not pass a UDRP challenge.

The domains all seem to have been registered to a Graham Stirling of Gibraltar for some years. Gibraltar’s a pretty small place, suggesting that it’s very probably the same guy.

It’s the second serious cybersquatting claim to hit Donuts in the last couple of weeks.

As we reported last week, a lawyer who apparently doesn’t want his client’s identity to be known has written to ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee to warn that Demand Media, Donuts’ back-end partner and its founders’ former employer, has a history of adverse UDRP findings.

That letter fingered Stirling as an employee of Gibraltar-based investment company Veddis Ventures, whose other executives allegedly have ties to online gambling scandals in the US.

Veddis Ventures recently removed Stirling’s full name from its web site. He’s now just listed as “Graham S”, adding to the intrigue.

The latest set of cybersquatting allegations are directed to ICANN’s background screening panel, which is tasked with weeding likely ne’er-do-wells out of the new gTLD program.

The panel looks at not only the corporate history of the applicant, but also at its directors and officers.

Stirling is not named on any of Donuts applications. For that matter, Donuts itself is not named as an official applicant on any of its 307 applications either.

Each of its applications has been filed by a different shell company, most of which are owned by another company, Dozen Donuts LLC, which we assume (but do not know) is in turn owned by Donuts.

The only individual named in the background check part of the applications (at least the portions published by ICANN) is Donuts CEO Paul Stahura.

Stirling is not currently listed as a director on Donuts’ web site.

If Stirling is still involved with Donuts, it might not impact the results of Donuts background screening, if the panel only looks at UDRP or court cases for evidence of cybersquatting.

Stirling does not appear to have ever been named in, never mind lost, a UDRP complaint.

That said, I don’t think ICANN’s background screening process will be over for a while yet…

August 7 Update:

Donuts has provided the following statement:

Graham Stirling is not a member of the Donuts Board of Directors and has not been since November 2011. Our list of board members as documented on our web site at www.donuts.co is current.

It’s disappointing to see Donuts’ contributions to new gTLD expansion attacked by those (including some unwilling to disclose their identities) who attempt to portray the company or those associated with it as bad actors. The company is and will continue to be committed to the legitimate interests of rights holders. As described in our applications, Donuts will implement rights protection mechanisms in its new gTLDs that substantially exceed those mandated by ICANN.

We have engaged the intellectual property community, law enforcement and others in the community about IP protection and believe our intentions and actions are clear and well understood. Infringement of legitimate rights is not tolerated by Donuts, in any capacity. Our collaboration with the community on IP protections will be an ongoing priority as the new gTLD program continues.

Lawyer tries to nuke Donuts and Demand Media’s gTLD bids

Kevin Murphy, August 1, 2012, Domain Registries

A lawyer has called for new gTLD uber-applicants Demand Media and Donuts to be banned from running gTLD registries due to Demand’s history of cybersquatting.

Jeffrey Stoler of Boston law firm McCarter & English has written to ICANN’s leadership, along with the chair of the Governmental Advisory Committee, to allege that Demand Media, Donuts and their key executives:

are, by ICANN’s established eligibility guidelines, unsuited and ineligible to participate in the new gTLD program.

It goes on to state that:

ICANN can and should reject the applications from Donuts and its subsidiaries, Demand Media and its subsidiaries, and their respective affiliated companies.

The two companies have, combined, applied for 333 new gTLDs. Donuts, which was founded by former Demand executives, also plans to use Demand as its back-end registry provider.

Demand Media subsidiaries, however, have a rotten record of losing cybersquatting cases filed under the UDRP, as Stoler’s generally well-researched 24-page letter spells out in some detail.

This, Stoler argues, should cause both companies to fail ICANN’s background checks, which are specified in the Applicant Guidebook.

Companies that have “been involved in a pattern of adverse, final decisions” under the UDRP, defined as more than three losses in the last four years, are supposed to fail the background check.

Demand Media seems to fit that definition, and then some, assuming you include UDRP losses incurred by its subsidiaries.

Donuts, as a brand new company, does not have the same track record, but Stoler reckons there is “strong evidence that Donuts is merely an alter ego of, and working in concert with, Demand Media”.

The letter states:

In June 2009, when ICANN’s rules went into effect and it was widely thought that implementation of the new gTLD program was imminent, the executives of Demand Media Group realized that Demand Media’s sordid history would clearly block its ability to successfully apply for the new gTLDs.

As an initial gambit, Demand Media petitioned ICANN to revise the rules.

When ICANN rejected those revisions, the undersigned believes Demand Media decided it would be necessary to create a new entity to participate in the new gTLD program. As a result, Donuts was formed by Messrs. Stahura and Tindal.

It would make a mockery of ICANN rules, however, if Demand Media Group and its executives could absolve themselves of their record of adverse UDRP decisions merely by forming a new entity.

Donuts founders Paul Stahura and Richard Tindal were both with Demand when it lost a bunch of UDRP cases.

Stoler alleges that they left to form Donuts mainly because they didn’t think Demand would pass ICANN’s background checks.

While Donuts has made no secret of the fact that it’s behind 307 applications — and ICANN’s leadership is certainly already aware of this — each application has been filed by a different shell company.

The trail to Donuts is at least two companies deep in many cases, and it’s not entirely clear how its applications with Demand Media are structured, from a corporate point of view.

Ironically, Stoler’s letter does not disclose his affiliations — which clients he’s working for — either.

The smart money is probably on big trademark interests, but it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility, I suppose, that he could be on the payroll of rival new gTLD applicants.

I’ve reached out to Stoler, Donuts and Demand Media for comment and will provide updates later as appropriate.

Here’s the Stoler letter (pdf)

Olympic domain watch list shows hundreds of squats, legit names too

Kevin Murphy, May 30, 2012, Domain Policy

Lawyers for the International Olympic Committee have released a list of hundreds of domain names allegedly cybersquatting the Olympic trademark, all registered in just a couple of weeks.

But as well as showing that there are hundreds of idiots out there, the list also sheds light on substantial numbers of apparently legitimate uses of the word “olympic” by small businesses.

The insight comes from two weekly zone file monitoring reports, compiled for the IOC by Thomson Compumark, which were circulated to an ICANN working group this week.

There are about 300 domains on the lists. At first glance, it looks like the IOC has a serious problem on its hands.

According to IOC outside counsel Jim Bikoff:

These unauthorized registrations–often for pornographic, phishing, gambling or parked sites–dilute and tarnish the Olympic trademarks, and attempt to exploit for commercial gain the good will created by the Olympic Movement. The unauthorized domains already oblige the IOC and its National Olympic Committees to expend significant amounts of time and money on monitoring and enforcement activities.

Based on a perusal of the lists and a non-exhaustive, non-scientific sampling of the sites the domains lead to, I’d say a comfortable majority are fairly straightforward cases of bad faith.

I couldn’t find any porn or phishing, but most of the domains I checked either do not resolve or resolve to placeholder or parking pages. If they resolved to a developed site, it was usually a splog.

However, a non-trivial minority of the domains are being used by apparently legitimate small businesses that have absolutely no connection to sports whatsoever.

Check out, for example, olympic-grill.com, olympicautorecycling.com, olympicbuildersgc.com, olympicco.com, olympiclandscapes.com, olympicrollingshutters.com, or olympicpromotions.info.

These are domains all apparently registered in the same week, and all appear to be kosher uses of domain names (though the logo choice at olympicpromotions.info is just begging for trouble).

A fair number of the domains on the list appear to be re-registrations of domains that have previously expired, judging by historical Whois records.

One would imagine that if there was value in cybersquatting a nice-looking domain such as 2012olympicstickets.com, for example, the former squatter probably wouldn’t have let it go.

Perhaps the “best” typo I found on the list, ollympics.com, is registered to a British guy called Olly. Assuming that’s his actual name, it seems like pretty good evidence of good faith.

The IOC, incidentally, has only ever filed 15 UDRP cases, on average fewer than two per year, so claims about spending “significant amounts” on enforcement are questionable.

NAF loses UDRP market share again

Kevin Murphy, April 4, 2012, Domain Policy

If UDRP forum shopping is a real phenomenon, the market share statistics don’t bear it out.

The National Arbitration Forum today announced a sequential decrease in the number of cybersquatting cases it handled in 2011, widening the gap between itself and the World Intellectual Property Organization for at least the second year in a row.

NAF said it handled 2,082 complaints last year, down 4% from 2010. That’s over the same period WIPO saw a 2.5% increase to 2,764 cases.

NAF is occasionally accused of being the more complainant-friendly of the two major UDRP dispute resolution providers, which some say encourages “forum shopping”.

While that may or may not be true in certain fringe cases, it’s certainly not helping NAF win a flood of business. WIPO is still handling more cases, and growing its share while NAF’s shrinks.

As Mike Berkens observed over on The Domains, NAF’s press release attempted a bit of lame spinning, comparing 2011 to 2009 in order to lead with an 18% increase stat.

The release also includes the following quote from director of internet and IP services Kristine Dorrain, which seems to be designed to subtly address the “complainant-friendly” allegations.

Our experience tells us parties, particularly domain name registrants, prefer the National Arbitration Forum because documents are easily accessible in our online portal. Complaint or Response filing is accomplished in just a couple of minutes.

It’s a somewhat irrelevant statement, given that it’s the complainant who gets to choose the venue.

One of NAF’s 2011 highlights was being picked as exclusive provider of Rapid Evaluation Service cases by .xxx manager ICM Registry. It processed 10 RES complaints in 2011.

RES cases, as well as 73 .us cases, were counted in its headline statistics.

WIPO releases 2011 cybersquatting stats

Kevin Murphy, March 6, 2012, Domain Policy

WIPO handled more UDRP cases covering more domain names in 2011 than in any other year, but its numbers do not paint a very convincing picture of the cybersquatting landscape.

The organization today announced that it handled 2,764 UDRP cases covering 4,781 domain names last year. The number of cases was up 2.5% over 2010.

The number of domain names covered by these cases was up by 9.4% – an additional 414 domains.

It’s basically meaningless data if you’re looking to make a case that cybersquatting is on the increase.

Obviously, while WIPO is the market-share leader, it is not the only UDRP provider. It sees a representative but non-exhaustive sample of cases.

While UDRP is the standard dispute mechanism for all ICANN-contracted gTLDs, WIPO also has side deals with ccTLD registries to look after cybersquatting cases in their zones.

As WIPO has added more ccTLD deals, it has become harder to make apples-to-apples comparisons year over year.

Based on WIPO’s own records, it received 2,323 UDRP complaints about domains in gTLDs last year, up by 28 cases from 2010, a 1.2% increase.

Given that the number of domains registered in gTLDs increased by at least 8% between January 1 and November 30 2011, cybersquatting seems to be actually on the decrease in relative terms.

And given that the number of UDRP cases filed is so piddlingly small, a single obsessive-compulsive complainant (ie, Lego) can skew the results.

Lego spammed WIPO with more than 160 complaints in 2011. As a result, Denmark is the last year’s fourth-biggest filer after the US, France and UK, according to WIPO, with 202 complaints.

So, if you see any company using these WIPO numbers to rage about cybersquatting in press releases, ICANN comments or Congressional hearings, give them a slap from me. Thanks.

Here’s a table of WIPO’s caseload from 2000 to 2011.

YEARCASESDOMAINS
200018573760
200115572465
200212072042
200311001774
200411762599
200514563312
200618242806
200721563545
200823293958
200921074685
201026964367
201127644781

Sadly, the number of UDRP complaints will never reflect the actual amount of cybersquatting going on, particularly when cybersquatters only need to price their domains more cheaply than the cost of a UDRP complaint in order to stay off the radar.

WIPO’s data does raise some interesting questions about the geographic distribution of complainants and respondents, however.

Unsurprisingly, cybersquatting was found to be big business in China, the second most-common home nation, after the US, for respondents. No UDRPs filed with WIPO originated there, however.

Surprisingly, Australia is ranked fourth on the list of countries most likely to harbor alleged squatters, with 171 respondents. But Australia was 13th in terms of complainant location, with just 39 cases.

Read more WIPO data here.

ICA demands probe of “shoddy” UDRP decisions

Kevin Murphy, February 24, 2012, Domain Policy

The Internet Commerce Association has called for an ICANN investigation into the National Arbitration Forum’s “seriously flawed” record of UDRP decisions.

The demands follow two recent NAF cybersquatting cases thought to be particularly egregious.

In the first, Hardware Resources, Inc. v. Yaseen Rehman, the domain hardwareresources.org was transferred based on a trademark that explicitly denounced rights to the term “hardware resources”.

In the second, Auto-Owners Insurance Company v. Nokta Internet Technologies, NAF allegedly broke from standard UDRP procedure when it handed autoownersinsurance.com to the complainant.

Both were cases of potentially valuable generic domains being lost, and both were recently singled out by IP attorney Paul Keating as being particularly dubious decisions.

The ICA represents some big domainers and some of the big domaining registrars. Its counsel, Phil Corwin, wrote to ICANN yesterday to demand a review of NAF’s practices:

NAF’s administration of the UDRP in the cases cited above appears to be seriously flawed and creates the appearance of substantial bias and ineptitude. ICANN has a responsibility to make serious inquiry into this matter and to take remedial action based upon its findings.

According to Corwin, there’s circumstantial evidence that NAF encourages “forum shopping” due to its habit of appointing a small number of adjudicators known to be friendly to complainants.

Regular readers of DomainIncite and other domain industry news blogs may have noticed that when we report incredulously about UDRP decisions, it’s usually with reference to NAF cases.

Corwin’s letter comes as part of a larger ongoing campaign by the ICA to get ICANN to sign formal contracts with its approved UDRP resolution providers, which it lacks today.

First .xxx cybersquatting complaint filed by porn site

Kevin Murphy, February 12, 2012, Domain Policy

The new .xxx top-level domain has seen its first cybersquatting complaint filed by a porn site.

The registrant of the domain femjoy.xxx was hit by a UDRP complaint in with the World Intellectual Property Organization late last week.

FemJoy.com is a well-known “artistic nude” porn site, according to the adult industry trade press.

While there have already been 12 UDRP cases filed against .xxx registrants, the previous cases have all been filed by the owners, such as banks and retailers, of non-porn trademarks.

The femjoy.xxx case appears to be the first instance of a cybersquatting complaint filed by a porn site.

Complainant Georg Streit has owned a US trademark on “FemJoy” – covering “magazines and periodicals featuring photographs and images of landscapes and human bodies” – since 2007.

The registrant of femjoy.xxx is an Australian called Tu Nguyen, according to Whois records. The domain does not currently resolve. In fact, it doesn’t even have name servers.

Manwin files its first cybersquatting complaint

Kevin Murphy, January 27, 2012, Domain Policy

Manwin Licensing, the company currently suing ICANN and ICM Registry claiming .xxx breaks US competition law, has filed its first cybersquatting complaint using the UDRP.

It’s over a .com domain, pornhubarchive.com (don’t go there, not only is it NSFW but it also looks like it panders to some very dubious tastes), which Manwin thinks infringes on its rights to the PornHub name

The domain is registered to a Russian, while pornhub.com itself is protected by Whois privacy.

There’s a certain irony here. PornHub is a “tube” site that allows users to upload content and has itself come under fire for violating intellectual property rights in the past.

It was sued by the the porn production company Pink Visual for copyright infringement in 2010.

Fox takes control of squatted .xxx domain

Kevin Murphy, January 21, 2012, Domain Policy

Twentieth Century Fox has withdrawn its cybersquatting complaint about the domain name foxstudios.xxx after the domain was transferred into its control.

As I reported on Tuesday, the UDRP case was a no-brainer. Fox Studios is Fox’s production subsidiary, and the owner of foxstudios.xxx had offered the domain for sale on eBay for a ludicrous $1.9 million.

This would have been more than enough to show bad faith.

The Whois record for the domain shows it is now owned by Fox, with an email address corresponding to an outside law firm. From here, it still resolves to a for-sale page, however.

Three more .xxx UDRP complaints have been filed this week, all by Turkish companies, bringing the total since December 29 to eight.

Fox files cybersquatting complaint on .xxx domain

Kevin Murphy, January 17, 2012, Domain Policy

Twentieth Century Fox appears to have filed a UDRP complaint over the domain name foxstudios.xxx.

The domain, which does not currently resolve, was registered to a Connecticut man in December, shortly after ICM Registry took .xxx into general availability.

It’s the fifth UDRP case in the .xxx space since late December. The others are richardbranson.xxx, valero.xxx, heb.xxx and markafoni.xxx.

While it’s a National Arbitration Forum complaint – so the identity of the complainant has not yet been disclosed – Fox Studios is a Fox subsidiary that does business at foxstudios.com.

A bit of Googling reveals that Fox Studios was also the name of a gay porn production company that won some awards in the late 1990s. Its DVDs are still for sale from several sites.

So it may not be a slam-dunk UDRP win for Fox in this case. If the registrant bothers to respond to the complaint he could probably make a decent case that it was not a bad-faith registration.

(UPDATE: Thanks to @mneylon for pointing out that foxstudios.xxx is for sale on eBay with a buy-now price of $1.9 million. Ergo: the squatter’s gonna lose.)

Incidentally, foxstudios.net appears to be owned by a small but legitimate photography business in Michigan, which I think is a perfect example of how two companies can happily share a brand using different TLDs.