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How Should eCommerce Businesses Respond to a Domain Name Dispute?

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Your internet domain name is very important to you as an eCommerce brand. A domain name is your virtual identity card for the internet. Additionally, your domain name hides your business’ internet protocol (IP address). An IP address is a series of numbers. As such, a domain name is easier to remember than an IP address. A domain name is often a business’ intellectual property asset. When other businesses use it, it can cause issues around trade mark rights. For example, the use of another business’ domain name can lead to a domain name dispute with the trade mark owner. Domain law is a complicated and tricky area of eCommerce law. This article will explain what steps you can take if your UK eCommerce business has a domain name dispute, such as using a dispute resolution service.

What is a Domain Name?

A domain name consists of two parts of a website address. For example, ‘legalvision’ (the first part) and ‘co.uk’ (the second part).  As an eCommerce business, you will register your domain name with an accredited registrar for a fee to have exclusive use of the name for a specific period.

If a domain name dispute arises for your eCommerce brand, this means that you and another business both think they have the right to the domain name.

What to Do if You Encounter a Domain Name Dispute?

What to do when your online business encounters a domain name dispute will largely depend on the reason for the domain dispute and what is at risk for your business. There are many steps or options available to you to resolve the domain name dispute. A good first step to take is to contact an eCommerce lawyer for advice on what to do regarding the domain name dispute.

Ultimately, where another business is using your domain name, you will want to try to get a transfer of the domain name. However, to do so, you must usually ensure that you registered the domain name before the other internet corporation did. You will also need to ensure that the domain name in question is not a generic one.  Another point to consider is if the other party or your business has the domain name as a registered trade mark. If the other business has this, the domain name dispute could mean you are the eCommerce business in problems. You will also usually need to prove the other party using your domain name did so in bad faith. Below are three avenues you can follow to resolve your domain name dispute:

1. Negotiate With the Other Party

The simplest way to resolve a domain dispute is to send a letter or email to a person using the domain name you claim is yours. You may be able to resolve the dispute without cause for further action.

If the other party is not particularly amenable, you may suggest paying up, so you buy your domain name back. This may not seem very fair, but it could be cheaper and quicker than taking further action, as outlined below.

2. Dispute Resolution Procedure

When someone uses your domain name, it will usually involve you contacting your domain name administrator. They will have a domain dispute resolution procedure you must follow with domain arbitration procedures. For example, Nominet has a five-stage process, which includes mediation and an expert decision, which you can appeal.

As you sign a contract as a registrant registering your domain name, these procedures are legally binding.

3. Going to Court

If you do intend to get a transfer of the domain name, you may decide against dispute resolution procedures and instead go to court. However, taking court action for a domain name dispute will usually be a last resort.

You should note that courts will look at when the cause of the current domain name dispute occurred. If it was more than two years, they may decide that your eCommerce brand is not affected enough by it. Otherwise, you would have acted sooner.

Suppose a business registers a domain name but does not have the domain rights to it. The domain name they use is likely to be thought of by the public as associated with your eCommerce brand, who are simply a third party to this business. This is known as cybersquatting. If you let the courts deal with the cybersquatter, they will likely find in favour of your eCommerce brand. This is because a cybersquatter does not have the necessary domain rights where the domain is likely associated with your brand.

Additionally, passing off is where a domain name another company uses is incorrectly linked to your eCommerce business. As a result, they benefit from your band when they should not. Regarding passing off, the court may award you damages to your business as the other brand using your domain is at an unfair advantage.

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Key Takeaways

A domain dispute is where another business uses your domain where you believe it should not. There are several steps or courses of action you can take to resolve a domain name dispute. If you find your eCommerce business in a domain dispute, you will want to get a domain transfer. There are various ways you may deal with a domain dispute depending on the circumstances. Initially, you can try to negotiate with the other domain user to resolve the issue. Where this does not work, you may go through the domain administrator’s dispute resolution procedure, which will be legally binding. As a last resort, you may go to court, which may mean you are awarded damages.

If you have an eCommerce business and you need help understanding what to do if you become involved in a domain name dispute, contact our experienced eCommerce lawyers as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. Call us today on 0808 196 8584 or visit our membership page.

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