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How to dispute domain name ownership

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First4Lawyers, July 09, 2018

When it comes to your company website, having a recognisable domain name (the bit that comes after the 'www.') can help you to establish an identity and help customers trust your brand.

However, the large and changing nature of the internet means that sometimes there can be issues over who has the right to use certain domain names.

It could be that someone is using a domain name like yours and it's having an impact on your business. Or someone could raise issue with a name that you’ve chosen.

Either way, resolving a UDRP complaint (Uniform Domain-Name Dispute Resolution Policy) can be a rather confusing and time-consuming process.

Because everyone's circumstances are unique, it's a good idea to seek professional advice to establish the best procedure to resolve a domain name dispute.

Who has the right to a domain name?

Domain name ownership is a tricky area, as there are all kinds of different domain name providers responsible for different extensions (i.e. '.com', '.co.uk', '.email'). Because of this, there's no universal regulation about domain name rights. Instead, most providers operate on a 'first-come-first-served' basis.

When buying a domain name for your business, you might want to get variations of the name across different extensions, to avoid issues with people using a similar address in the future.

But, sometimes this can't be avoided and you might find out that someone has a domain name that's very like yours.

If it is having a negative impact on your business, you may be able to raise a dispute and stop them from using it.

How to dispute domain name ownership

Each domain name provider has a different UDRP process for resolving domain name disputes. But most will want the same sort of evidence to stop the other person from using their domain name.

To be successful, you'll usually need to prove two things:

  1. You have a right to the domain name
    If you have trade marked the words in the URL, it's much easier to show you have a right to the domain name under intellectual property law - our guide about how to trade mark a company name and logo shows how this can benefit your business.
    Even if you don't, you may still be able to prove they are breaching your rights if you have proof you've used the domain publicly, over time, and that it's strongly associated with your brand identity.
  1. The other party is using the domain name in 'bad faith'
    Most of the time, it's not enough to show you have a right to the domain name - you must also prove the person who owns it is using it to negatively impact your business. While this will be different depending on circumstances, it could be:
  • They've bought it with the sole intention of selling it to you or your competitors for a profit.
  • They're trying to pass off their business as being closely related to your own, potentially to poach your customers.
  • They're trying to disrupt your business and confuse your customers.
  • They're libelling you - publishing things that hurt your reputation.

It can also make your case easier if you can prove you had a right to the domain name when it was registered and today.

This can suggest the other party bought it, fully knowing it was associated with your business, and so had negative intentions.

The domain name dispute process

The steps in the UDRP process will vary, depending on the organisation that regulates the domain names, so it's important to check the guidance on the provider's website. However, typically you can:

  1. Lodge a complaint through the 'complaints' section of the website.
  2. Wait for a response from the other party.
  3. Use the (often free) mediation service to try to resolve the issue.

If this doesn't work, or if the other party doesn't respond to the complaint, you may have the option to pay for an expert decision.

Depending on the circumstances, this can cost anywhere from £200 to upwards of £750.

If you're still not happy with the expert's decision, you can appeal to raise the dispute to a board of experts - this can cost around £3,000.

Alternatively, if you believe you have been libelled or your intellectual property rights have been impacted, you may be able to take the issue to court.

It can be very difficult to prove domain name ownership rights, and the process can be costly. Before taking action, get in touch and discuss your situation with one of our legal advisors.  It's free and there's no obligation.

Find out more about our intellectual property law services

Note: First4Lwyers offers this information as guidance, not advice. Before taking any action, you should seek professional assistance tailored to your personal circumstances.

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