FAQ: What is domain name law?
There is no clearly defined internet domain name law. What domain name law really denotes is a wide range of legal concepts and causes of action which may be relevant to the registration, transfer and ownership of domain names.
Much of the internet domain name legal framework is based on the law of contract. Although you may not notice it, you enter a legal contract with the domain name registry, registrar or reseller through whom you register your domain name. You will normally be asked to click acceptance to legal terms and conditions governing your registration / use of the domain name. Amongst other things, these are likely to bind you to a dispute resolution policy such as the ICANN Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy, also known as the UDRP, if someone claims that you have say registered and used a domain name in bad faith. If the domain dispute case is successful, then the domain name can be transferred to the other person. And the reason that this can happen is that you agreed to this possibility as a condition of registering the domain name in the first place.
Another aspect of domain name law involves registration / use of a domain name which infringes someone else’s intellectual property rights, based for example on laws of infringement of trademarks or of passing off. In the UK, these are not 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, where the court held 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 court decides that registration / use of a domain name does breach intellectual property rights, it can order transfer of the domain name as well as payment of damages and costs.
In some countries there are specific domain name laws giving specific legal rights to trade mark owners. For example, the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act in the US.
There are numerous domain name legal issues which can arise aside from the kinds of disputes about domain name registration or use mentioned above. 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