FAQ: What is domain name law?
Internet “domain name law” is not a clear, self-contained concept. Domain name law really denotes a wide range of legal concepts and causes of action, which are likely to affect the registration, transfer and ownership of domain names.
Domain names and the law of contract
The law of contract underpins much of the internet domain name legal framework. Though you may not notice it, you enter a legal contract when you register a domain name. This happens when you click acceptance to legal terms and conditions governing your registration / use of the domain name. Among other things, these are likely to bind you to a “dispute resolution policy”. The most well-known is the ICANN Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy or UDRP. This allows someone to claim that you have registered and used .com or other certain domain names in bad faith. If the domain dispute case is successful, the registrar will transfer the domain name to the other person. Remember – you agreed to this possibility as a condition of registering the domain name in the first place! These domain arbitration policies have now generated a large repository of cybersquatting case law. For more information, see domain name ownership disputes.
Intellectual property rights
Another aspect of domain name law arises where the registration and/or use of domain names infringes someone else’s intellectual property rights. For example, trade marks or of passing off. In the UK, these aren’t “domain name laws” in that they aren’t specifically designed for domain names. But there are more and more legal cases applying these legal concepts to internet domain names. One well known example is a decision of the UK Court of Appeal in the One in a Million Case. The court said that registration of a domain name inherently like someone else’s name could amount to an “instrument of fraud”, a kind of passing off. If a registration / use of a domain name breaches intellectual property rights, the court can order transfer of the domain name as well as payment of damages and costs.
In some countries, specific domain name laws give certain legal rights to trade mark owners. For example, the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act in the US.
Other domain name legal issues
Many other domain name legal issues which crop up apart from disputes about domain name registration or use. The types of legal problems which we encounter include:
- Domain name agents failing to renew domain names
- Companies not ensuring that domain names are registered in their own names rather than those of say employees or web designers
- Dealing with domain names when the registrants or domain name registrars have gone bankrupt, into liquidation or been dissolved
- Applications for new domain names during their sunrise periods (i.e. reserved for trade mark owners)
- Eligibility criteria applicable to certain kinds of domain names
- Domain name hijacking