Domain name disputes are a common phenomenon that can hamper the existence and growth of an online business or website. According to reports, in 2021 alone, the World Intellectual Property Organisation managed about Five thousand, one hundred and twenty-eight (5, 128) domain name disputes. Often, individuals and businesses clash based on claims to the ownership of a domain name. Sometimes, people acting in bad faith may try to exploit for profit the goodwill of a brand by registering internet domain names identical to the brand’s trademarks, company names, service marks, or personal names. Their intentions may range from planning to sell the domain names to the rightful owner at an exorbitant price to offering counterfeit products and services in the company’s name to unsuspecting customers. This practice, called cybersquatting under the law, has legal implications and is a cause of domain name disputes.
How do you resolve domain name disputes?
NiRA DISPUTE RESOLUTION POLICY (NDRP)
Under the NDRP policy, most types of trademark-based domain-name disputes must be resolved by agreement, court action, or arbitration before a registrar will cancel, suspend, or transfer a domain name. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) adopted the UDRP policy on August 26, 1999, based on recommendations made by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
Disputes alleged to arise from abusive registrations of domain names (for example, cybersquatting) may be addressed by expedited administrative proceedings that the holder of trademark rights initiates by filing a complaint with an approved dispute-resolution service provider. The Nigeria Internet Registration Association (NiRA) is an approved domain name disputes-resolution provider in Nigeria.
The Complainant in a domain name dispute situation can file a complaint addressed to the .ng Registry via email. The complaint can be filed on the following grounds:
- The domain name in question is identical or confusingly like a trademark/service mark in which the Complainant has rights; and
- Registrant/Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name; and
- The domain name in question has been registered or is being used in bad faith or for illegal/unlawful purposes.
On receipt of the complaint, the .ng Registry shall evaluate the same for compliance, and discrepancies (if any) will be notified to Complainant within 5 working days who will then be given 7 working days to make rectifications. Once the complaint has become compliant with the Rules, the .ng Registry will appoint an arbitrator within 5 working days. The arbitrator will then set a time limit for the Registrant/Respondent to file its submissions. Thereafter, the arbitrator would review the submissions made by both sides and then pass a decision on the merits of the case.
The arbitrator is required to pass the decision within 60 days of commencement of proceedings and under exceptional circumstances, it can be extended by a period of 30 days. The decision of the arbitrator is communicated in writing to the parties by the Registry within 5 days of receiving it from the arbitrator.
However, while it is possible to seek redress in domain name disputes situations, it is best for you to actively protect your domain names. Here are some measures to take in this regard:
- Register all popular top-level domains and have those domains redirected to your original website. For example: if your original website is www.domainname.com, you can also register www.domain name. ng and have it redirected to the original website on the .com domain.
- Renew your domain registrations in a timely manner to prevent parties from sweeping them away.
- There is no special legislation to deal with domain name policing and legal grounds for filing complaints depend on your trademark registrations. Therefore, it is important to get the distinctive part of your domain name registered as a trademark.
- Subscribe to legal watch services to conduct frequent checks for identical and similar domain names.
- It is also imperative to spread awareness among consumers and explain to them what fake domains may look like, so they are not compelled into visiting incorrect websites or buying counterfeit products.