Jim Flynn
Caption +

Jim Flynn, Money & the Law

Show MoreShow Less

As you might have noticed, international cooperation these days is hard to come by. But one area where international cooperation is alive and well has to do with the resolution of internet domain name disputes.

Starting in the 1990s, people with an entrepreneurial spirit (and bad motives) began registering domain names they knew others had an interest in. They then offered to sell those names back to parties wanting to control them — a practice known as cybersquatting. One early and prolific cybersquatter registered hundreds of names, including deltaair lines.com, eddiebauer.com and yankeestadium.com.

This type of conduct, along with more traditional disagreements over intellectual property rights in names, has led to an international dispute resolution arrangement developed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. The nonprofit organization, headquartered in Los Angeles, has responsibility for managing the internet’s global domain name system and, in that capacity, it licenses other organizations (such as GoDaddy and Network Solutions) to issue and register domain names.

To deal with domain name disputes, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers developed a set of rules called the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy.

These days, anyone registering a domain name agrees to be bound by the dispute resolution policy. Also under the policy, five organizations have been given authority to decide domain name disputes through a fast-moving and inexpensive (as such things go in the legal arena) process of arbitration.

The best-known and busiest of these organizations, based in Geneva, is the World Intellectual Property Organization, which runs the Arbitration and Mediation Center.

The dispute resolution process begins with the filing of a complaint with one of the arbitration organizations by someone who thinks a domain name is being wrongfully appropriated, by brazen cybersquatting or infringement of a legally owned trade name.

The alleged wrongdoer is given a chance to respond to the complaint, and the dispute is then resolved by a single arbitrator or a panel of three arbitrators. Resolution will be in the form of an order to transfer the domain name to the complaining party or denial of the complaint. This process takes only a few weeks and usually costs $1,500 to $5,000 — a drop in the bucket when compared with dispute resolution in the courts.

The rules established under the policy to resolve domain name disputes have governed some interesting cases, including disputes over juliaroberts.com (name ordered transferred); mickjagger.com (name ordered transferred); sirpaulmccartney.com (name ordered transferred); and brucespringsteen.com (complaint denied).

In denying Springsteen’s complaint, the arbitration panel said: “The Internet is an instrument for purveying information, comment and opinion on a wide range of issues and topics.” Users of the Internet “fully expect domain names incorporating the names of well known figures in any walk of life to exist independently of any connection with the figure themselves, but having been placed there by admirers or critics as the case may be.”

An arbitration decision can be challenged. But this requires filing a lawsuit, which defeats the purpose of the domain name resolution policy to provide an efficient, cost-effective forum.

Jim Flynn is with the Colorado Springs firm of Flynn & Wright LLC. Email moneylaw@jtflynn.com.

Load comments