Cybersquatter hit with maximum penalty

Citigroup, Inc. v. Shui, 2009 WL 483145 (E.D. Va. Feb. 24, 2009)

Court enjoins use of citybank.org, orders defendant to pay $100,000 in statutory damages and to pay Citibank’s attorneys’ fees.

Defendant Shui registered the domain name citybank.org and established a site there promoting financial services, sometimes using the mark CITIBANK. The real Citibank, armed with its trademark registrations in over 200 countries and over 50 years of use of its CITIBANK mark, filed suit against Shui under the Anticybersquatting and Consumer Protection Act, 15 USC 1125(d) (“ACPA”).

Citibank moved for summary judgment on its ACPA claim and also asked the court to enter an injunction against Shui. Citibank also sought $100,000 — the maximum amount of statutory damages available under the ACPA, plus payment of Citibank’s attorneys’ fees. The court granted all of Citibank’s requested relief.

To prevail on the ACPA claim, Citibank had to show that (1) Shui had a bad faith intent to profit from using the domain name, and (2) that the domain name at issue was identical or confusingly similar to, or dilutive of, Citibank’s distinctive or famous mark.

Finding of bad faith

The court found Shui registered the domain name in bad faith because:

  • Shui did not have any trademark or other intellectual property rights in the domain name, and the registration of the domain name was not sufficient to establish any rights.
  • The domain name consisted of the legal name of Citibank (with one letter difference) and not the legal name of, nor any name that was otherwise used to identify Shui.
  • Shui had not engaged in prior use of the disputed domain name in connection with the bona fide offering of any goods or services prior to registering the domain name.
  • Shui’s use of the domain name was commercial in nature. Notably, some of the advertisements on Shui’s site were exact replicas of the marks CITIBANK and CITI. Each clickthrough provided Shui with advertising revenue, even though clicking on a link with Citibank in the title did not redirect the user to any website affiliated with the real Citibank.
  • Shui clearly intended to confuse, mislead and divert internet traffic from Citibank’s official website to his own in order to garner more clickthrough revenue from the misleading “citibank” advertisements.
  • Subsequent to the filing of the complaint, Shui sold the domain name for financial gain to a third-party in an apparent effort to avoid liability.
  • Shui registered other internet domain names which were identical or similar to Citibank’s marks, and the CITIBANK mark was distinctive and famous at the time Defendant registered the disputed domain name.

Confusing similarity

On the issue of confusing similarity, the court observed the strength of Citibank’s mark and the fact that the parties both offered financial services. Taking those facts in combination with the bad faith demonstrated by Shui, the court found the disputed domain name to be confusingly similar to Citibank’s marks.

The remedy

Accordingly, the court found in favor of Citibank on the ACPA claim. The court was stern in its remedy. It found that Shui’s registration of the confusingly similar domain name was “sufficiently willful, deliberate, and performed in bad faith to merit the maximum statutory award of $100,000 and an award of attorney’s fees.”

$100K photo courtesy Flickr user Ricardo (Kadinho) Villela under this Creative Commons license.

Verizon obtains damages, injunction against regsitrar under ACPA

[This is a guest post by contributor Brian Beckham]

Plaintiff Verizon California, Inc. (Verizon) recently obtained a default judgment in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division, in its favor against Defendant, the registrar OnlineNIC, Inc. (press release).

Despite repeated attempts, Verizon was not able to serve notice on OnlineNIC; the court ultimately approved Verizon’s application to serve process with the California Secretary of State. OnlineNIC was alleged to have engaged in the bad faith registration of 663 identical or confusingly similar domain names incorporating one of Verizon’s family of marks (e.g., <bestverizon.net>, <myprepaidverizon.com>, <verizonflios.com>, <vzwactivate.com>, etc.) inter alia, in violation of the ACPA. Verizon’s unchallenged, well-pleaded allegations were accepted by the court as true; OnlineNIC’s liability was thus established.

In addition to OnlineNIC’s default, significantly, the court noted that OnlineNIC had refused to alter its behavior (presumably after a cease & desist letter) and had purposefully attempted to avoid detection (e.g., by providing false contact information). However, given the default, the court was reluctant to impose the full statutory damages provided for under the ACPA ($100,000 per infringement), but imposed damages of $50,000 per violation (totaling $33.15 million). It remains to be seen whether Verizon will successfully collect, nonetheless, Verizon obtained a transfer order in its favor for all of the 663 infringing domain names. OnlineNIC (including any related entity) was further enjoined from directly or indirectly (i) registering, trafficking in or using any domain name that is identical or confusingly similar to the Verizon marks and (ii) assisting, aiding or abetting any other person or business entity in engaging in or performing and of the said activities.

This injunction seems to leaves open the question of whether the seemingly common registrar practice of actively suggesting alternate domain names available for registration (e.g., those that add alphanumerical strings, e.g., <new____4u.com>, <buy____.net>, <your____.org>, <my____pro.com>, <best____.com>, etc.) would be covered by the “assisting, aiding or abetting” language in the injunction.

Case is: 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104516

Disclaimer in trademark registration sinks UDRP action

Ideation Unlimited, Inc. v. Dan Myers, Case No. D2008-1441 (WIPO November 12, 2008).

A trademark owner who notices that someone else has registered a domain name incorporating the owner’s mark can file an arbitration action under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP for short). This often serves as a quicker and less expensive alternative to pursuing the cybersquatter in court.

To be successful under the UDRP, the “Complainant” has to show all of the following three elements:

(a) the registered domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trade mark or service mark in which the Complainant has rights; and

(b) the “Respondent” has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the disputed domain name; and

(c) the disputed domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.

Ideation Unlimited, Inc. uses a logo with the word PRESCRIPTION COSMETICS. It has a United States and United Kingdom registrations for this logo. But in the U.S. registration the term “prescription cosmetics” is disclaimed. (Trademark applicants are required to “disclaim” any exclusive rights to use terms within their marks that are generic or merely describe the products.”) In the U.K. registration the word “prescription” is disclaimed.

The panel concluded that “[i]f the Complainant has willingly disclaimed any trade mark rights in the entire term ‘Prescription Cosmetics’, it cannot and should not claim to have trade mark rights in that term by virtue of its . . . registration.”

But what about common law rights, you ask? After all, one can support a UDRP action even without a trademark registration. The panel noted as follows:

Of course, it is not necessary for the Complainant to establish registered trade mark rights – it would be sufficient for the purposes of these proceedings under the Policy for the Complainant to demonstrate common law trade mark rights in the term PRESCRIPTION COSMETICS. However in the Complaint, the Complainant relies heavily on the three device marks, and provides little evidence of common law rights or reputation.

The decision underscores the importance of keeping trademark registrations up to date. Presumably, the mark in question here could have acquired distinctiveness by now (it’s been in use since the mid-70’s) so the disclaimer probably isn’t necessary anymore. And the decision also shows the importance of submitting evidence (at least a declaration) showing what common law or unregistered rights the complainant has.

Court enjoins transfer of trademarks associated with domain name booty

1st Technology v. Bodog Entertainment Group, S.A., No. 08-0872, (W.D. Wash. September 30, 2008).

After plaintiff 1st Technology won a $46 million default judgment against defendant BEGSA, 1st Technology began its collection efforts by seeking to obtain possession of thousands of BEGSA domain names registered through the Washington-state based registrar eNom. A state court ordered the domain names transferred to a receiver, but the judge, unsure of the degree of the state court’s jurisdiction, did not transfer the ownership of the corresponding federally-registered trademarks associated with the domain names.

Thereafter, BEGSA purported to assign the trademarks to various subsidiaries and related entities. 1st Technology filed a federal lawsuit against BEGSA and these other entities, asking the court to set aside the later transfers as fraudulent conveyances. 1st Technology sought a preliminary injunction to prevent further transfer of the trademarks, and to prevent defendants from using the trademarks in connection with online gambling.

The court granted the motion inasmuch as it sought prevention of further transfer. But it denied the motion as to the use in connection with online gambling.

BEGSA argued, among other things, that the court could not order the forced sale of the trademarks and their goodwill, and that federal trademark law preempted the state fraudulent conveyance law under which 1st Technology sought relief. The court rejected both of these arguments, citing to Seventh Circuit authority providing that the “assertion that a trademark is not subject to an involuntary judicial sale is incorrect.” Adams Apple Distrib. Co. v. Papeleras Reunidas, S.A., 773 F.2d 925, 931 (7th Cir. 1985). On the preemption question, the court noted the absence of any authority cited by BEGSA providing for preemption, and looked to the language of 15 U.S.C. §1119, which gives the court broad authority to affect the federal trademark register.

In denying injunctive relief against the use of the trademarks in connection with online gambling, the court concluded that at such an early stage in the litigation, it was not prepared to distinguish which conduct on the part of the defendants was illegal or legal. Of significant importance was the likelihood of harm to both parties if the trademarks could not be used in the way they traditionally had (that is, for online gambling). Defendants argued that “disjoining the marks from their most commonly known use hopelessly dilutes them and destroys their value – to anyone.”

NASCAR beat to checkered flag in domain name dispute

[Brian Beckham is a contributor to Internet Cases and can be contacted at brian.beckham [at] gmail dot com.]

Complainant NASCAR filed a complaint under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (“UDRP”) against The Racin’ Connection, Inc. over the domain name nascartours.com. In the stock car racing business since 1948, NASCAR is a household name in U.S. motor sports. Its DAYTONA 500 attracted 30 million television viewers in 2007. NASCAR licensed its various marks to over 200 licensees to the tune of USD 2 billion in 2006. An entire industry revolves around providing tickets and packages to NASCAR-sanctioned events. One such entity, The Racin’ Connection, Inc. has provided such tour packages for over 30,000 customers in part through its website at the nascartours.com domain name since 1996.

NASCAR alleged in its complaint that the unlicensed domain name was confusingly similar to its NASCAR mark, that The Racin’ Connection, Inc. had no rights or legitimate interests in the domain name, and that the domain name was registered and was being used in bad faith. NASCAR further asserted that use of its marks in a domain name (as opposed to on a website) was not a fair use, and that such use was intended to “entice…[and] misleadingly divert consumers for [] commercial gain.”

The Racin’ Connection, Inc. argued that the domain name was not confusingly similar to the NASCAR marks, but that its use of the marks was a fair use as part of a bona fide offering of services as a “race package reseller”. It further pointed out that it promoted only NASCAR events and displayed a disclaimer on its website.

Finding the The Racin’ Connection, Inc.’s argument of laches unavailing, the 3-member Panel found that the domain name was confusingly similar to the NASCAR mark. The Panel noted that there is a split in URPD cases regarding whether a bona fide offering of goods or services on a reseller’s (authorized or not) website using a mark in a domain name confers a legitimate interest on the reseller. In this case, the Panel found that The Racin’ Connection, Inc.’s use of the NASCAR mark in its domain name did confer such rights. (The Panel considered several factors from the previous Oki Data case paramount: The Racin’ Connection, Inc. was only offering NASCAR tours; the website disclosed the parties’ relationship; and the respondent did not try to “corner the market” in domain names incorporating the mark). Finally, the Panel found that The Racin’ Connection, Inc.’s sales of NASCAR tours since 1992 and disclaimer on its website coupled with a lack of evidence from NASCAR as to any actual consumer confusion negated a finding of bad faith in its registration or use of the domain name.

Ultimately, despite confusing similarity between the domain name and the NASCAR mark, given the good faith use of the mark in connection with a bona fide offering of services and the rights created thereby, NASCAR was not able to stop the use of its mark in a domain name.

The Full text of the Decision is available at: http://www.wipo.int/amc/en/domains/decisions/html/2007/d2007-1524.html

Finding ATLAS COPCO and ATLAS CASPIAN confusingly similar, court awards in rem ACPA relief to unopposed plaintiff

Atlas Copco AB v. Atlascopcoiran.com, No. 07-1208, 2008 WL 149128 (E.D. Va. January 8, 2008)

Unable to hail the overseas registrants of domain names, including atlascaspian.com and atlascopcoiran.com into a U.S. court, plaintiff Atlas Copco AB sought in rem relief against the domain names under 15 U.S.C. §1125(d)(2)(a). After the defendants failed to answer the complaint, Atlas Copco moved for summary judgment, relying on the allegations of its verified complaint.

The court granted the motion and ordered the domain names transferred.

In finding that the defendants had engaged in cyberpiracy, the court looked at the “dominant or salient portions of the marks” at issue – the plaintiff’s mark and the marks comprising the offending domain names.

For you trademark experts out there, query whether you might characterize the following analysis as a bit of a stretch:

The dominant portion of each of the Defendant Domain Names is “ATLAS COPCO” or “ATLAS.” These “dominant” terms are paired with the generic terms “CASPIAN” and “IRAN,” which are generic geographic terms that do not distinguish the Defendant Domain Names from the ATLAS COPCO trademark. An internet user might reasonably assume that the geographic term “CASPIAN” and “IRAN” were added to the ATLAS COPCO trademark by the Plaintiffs to identify its geographic location.

It looks like another motivation for the court’s finding was some of the subterfuge on the sites at the offending domain names. Turns out some of them pointed to “copycat” websites bearing “Atlas Caspian” logos confusingly similar to the plaintiff’s trademark, and linked to phishing sites bearing the actual Atlas Copco mark.

Personal name must have trademark significance for protection under ACPA

Salle v. Meadows, No. 07-1089, 2007 WL 4463920 (M.D. Fla. December 17, 2007)

Defendant Meadows thought that Plaintiff Salle owed him about $9,500.  He was apparently having some trouble getting paid, so he registered the plaintiff’s personal name as a domain name – briansalle.com.  He then tried to sell it to Salle for the amount of the purported debt.  Being uninterested in the purchase, Salle filed a cybersquatting complaint against Meadows in federal court.

Salle asserted claims under both 15 U.S.C. §1125(d) and 15 U.S.C. §1129. Both parties moved for summary judgment. It was a mixed ruling, but largely a win for Salle.

The court addressed the §1129 claim first.  That portion of the Lanham Act provides:

Any person who registers a domain name that consists of the name of another living person, or a name substantially and confusingly similar thereto, without that person’s consent, with the specific intent to profit from such name by selling the domain name for financial gain to that person or any third party, shall be liable in a civil action by such person.

Meadows argued that in trying to sell the domain name and thus recover money owed to him, he was not trying to profit, and therefore not liable under §1129.  Despite some dispute over whether the debt was actually owed and to whom, the court ruled in Salle’s favor.  “[C]yber-extortion is not a permissible way to recover a debt,” the court warned.

As for the §1125(d) claim, the court ruled in Meadows’s favor.  Section 1125(d) provides, among other things, that a person shall be liable to the “owner of a mark, including a personal name which is protected as a mark under [§1125]” if that person has a bad faith intent to profit from that mark. 

Salle argued that §1125 provides that all personal names are subject to trademark protection. Meadows, on the other hand, argued that a personal name must have some sort of trademark significance, e.g., acquired distinctiveness, in order to fall with the protection of §1125. Agreeing with Meadows’s interpretation of the section, the court found that Salle failed to present enough evidence to survive summary judgment on the question of whether he had protectible trademark rights in his personal name.

Ownership of domain name grounds for civil contempt and award of attorney’s fees

But mere ownership of domain name, without “use,” was not enough to give rise to infringement.

Careylicensing, Inc. v. Erlich, No. 05-1194, 2007 WL 3146559 (E.D. Mo. October 25, 2007)

Plaintiff Carey International and defendant International Chauffeured Services are competitors in the limousine industry. Carey sued International back in 2005 for trademark infringement, and the parties settled the case. They entered into a consent judgment, which is, essentially, like a contract between the parties that was made an order of the court. The consent judgment prohibited, among other things, the defendant from owning any domain name containing the word “Carey.”

In February 2007, the plaintiff noticed that the defendant owned a domain name careylimousine.net. The plaintiff eventually went back into court, asking that the defendant be held in contempt for violating the consent judgment and, pursuant to the terms of the consent judgment, be awarded attorneys fees and “liquidated damages,” for breaching the agreement.

The court found that ownership of the domain name by the defendant warranted a contempt citation. It also found that that ownership was a breach that made an award of attorney’s fees proper. But the court declined to award liquidated damages.

The consent judgment provided that liquidated damages be awarded for any “infringement” of the plaintiff’s mark. But in this case, there was no infringement. The court found that merely owning the domain name, without having an active site there, was not a “use” in commerce as required by the Lanham Act. Without the requisite element of use, there could be no infringement.

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