Summary judgment awarded to luxury brand against cybersquatter under ACPA

Plaintiff (the luxury brand Chanel) sued defendant under the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (15 U.S.C. 1125(d)) (“ACPA”) over defendant’s registration and use of the disputed domain name <chanelgraffiti.com>. Plaintiff moved for summary judgment on its ACPA claim. The court granted the motion.

Distinctiveness of plaintiff’s mark

Defendant did not contest that plaintiff’s CHANEL mark was distinctive at the time the disputed domain name was registered. Plaintiff had put forth evidence that it owned registered trademarks for the mark CHANEL, and the court noted that registered trademarks are presumed to be distinctive.

Confusing similarity

The court found that the disputed domain name was confusingly similar to plaintiff’s mark. Citing 5 McCarthy on Trademarks § 25:78 (4th ed. 2002), the court held that “[i]n the cybersquatting context, ‘confusingly similar’ must simply mean that the plaintiff’s mark and the defendant’s domain name are so similar in sight, sound, or meaning that they could be confused.” The court found that defendant offered no admissible evidence to suggest that chanelgraffiti.com was not confusingly similar to the mark CHANEL.

Even with the additional word “graffiti” appearing within the disputed domain name, the court found that the similarities between the CHANEL mark and the disputed domain name were “instantly apparent because of the inclusion of the word” CHANEL in the disputed domain name. Moreover, defendant did not claim that the term “chanel” was meant to reference anything other than the luxury brand. Similarly, the court found that the including of the term “graffiti” did not self-evidently connote a type of criticism or disregard for the brand that rises to a meaningful level of distinction.

Bad faith intent

The court also found that there was no reasonable dispute that defendant had a bad faith intent to profit from the CHANEL mark. It found that bad faith could be inferred from defendant’s intent to divert consumers from plaintiff’s online location to a site accessible under the disputed domain name that could harm the goodwill represented by plaintiff’s mark, either for commercial gain or with the intent to tarnish or disparage plaintiff’s mark, by creating a likelihood of confusion as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of the site.

The court found that the disputed domain name unquestionably advertised products containing plaintiff’s mark and had product descriptions that read “CHANEL inspired graffiti bags.” Defendant disputed that he had any control over the content of the site, stating that he did not operate the website and had no connection to the disputed domain name outside of registering it.

Whether and to what extent the site was used or operated by defendant, however, was beside the point under ACPA. Defendant did not dispute that his registration of the disputed domain name, regardless of the content of the site, would divert customers from plaintiff’s website by creating a likelihood of confusion as to the affiliation of defendant’s site, which was a “quintessential example of bad faith within the meaning of ACPA.”

Chanel, Inc. v. Richardson, 2018 WL 6097865 (S.D.N.Y. November 20, 2018)