Resolution Of Disputes Over Domain Names & Cyberpirates


Big companies were late coming to the internet.  Even Bill Gates thought a few years ago that the net was not going to amount to much.  And when the big companies eventually got around to thinking about registering a domain name, they found out that the name they wanted had already been registered by someone else who wanted to be handsomely rewarded for giving up the name they owned.  The big companies decided these interlopers were "cyberpirates" (you always need good media tags) and set about getting even.  First, a dispute resolution system was set up; second, Congress passed the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.

Domain disputes can be resolved in the courts or through a dispute resolution service provider such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  Disputes arise when someone has beaten the big company to the registrar's office and registered the big company's name as a domain name, or files a name that is misleading when compared to the big company's name.  Others simply filed a generic name ("auto.com", "business.com") which were not directly related to any particular company name, and these people, unlike the cyberpirates, are usually bought out.  After all, they have an asset that is valuable to the big company.  

The dispute mechanism under NSI (see "Domain Names" in this website) was ineffective because it required that a domain name be placed in a hold status until the dispute was resolved.  The dispute was resolved by using traditional trademark law which was ineffective where the domain name user was not in direct conflict with the product being sold by the big company.  A new dispute resolution system was worked out and became effective December 1, 1999.  A new set of complicated rules are springing up but the existing domain name is no longer put on hold during the process and the process can be administrative in nature involving one or three arbitrators.  

The dispute resolution system is a good system for resolving honest differences over who should have a domain name, but did not address those persons who intentionally registered a domain name in order to extort money from a target company.  For example, a man registered "panavision.com" and asked Panavision to pay him.  He got sued instead (and lost).  As a result of this and other cases,  Congress enacted the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection  Act on November 29, 1999, which sets out standards to judge whether a person is acting in "bad faith" when he or she registers, uses, etc. a domain name that is confusingly similar to an existing trademark or personal name.  The extra firepower here is that the conflicting trademark or use does not have to be with reference to the same goods or services.  This makes sense since domain names are granted without reference to what products or services they are associated with (or even whether they have any relationship to a product or service).

The issues over domain names are being resolved.  However, many more are appearing on the horizon.  Take "meta tags", for example.  A meta tag is a hidden word or phrase that can act like bait for a search engine reaching into a website.  A porn site stuck an actress' name into their site as one of their meta tags.  People surfing for information on the actress ended up at the porn site.  That litigation is pending and the result should be obvious.  But no one knows at this point because internet law is in its infancy.


Law Offices of Douglas Clark Hollmann


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