One of the more frequent domain name related questions I am asked is regarding the ability to own the exact match domain name of famous athletes, celebrities, and other famous people. There are a lot of people who don’t think it’s a problem to own the exact match of someone’s domain name, and a perfect example is seeing how quickly the .com names of American Idol performers are registered after each initial performance.
I’ve always believed a person can own the exact match domain name of a famous person if they operate it in a way that doesn’t make money off that person’s fame. For instance, someone could hypothetically own DerekJeter.com and have a baseball fan site about New York Yankees superstar Derek Jeter as long as they aren’t monetizing it or trying to sell it. That’s not a legal opinion but just an observation of mine. As a domain investor, it doesn’t make sense to me to do this when you can’t profit from the domain name with the risk of losing it.
This morning, I read an interesting UDRP decision for the domain name NdamukongSuh.com. Ndamukong Suh is an NFL football player for the Detroit Lions, and ironically, he’s been in the news quite a bit this past week for an incident that took place in the Thanksgiving Day football game against the Green Bay Packers. He was suspended by the National Football League for two games as a result.
Here are some interesting quotes from the UDRP decision that ultimately went in favor of the complainant:
“Respondent acquired the disputed domain name in January 2009, with knowledge that it incorporated Complainant’s name. After learning that Complainant had retained a web developer other than Respondent, Respondent offered to transfer the domain to Complainant’s web developer, stating “Maybe we can work something out that is fair for the name.” In subsequent communications, Respondent provided a list of memorabilia items signed by Complainant that he would accept for transferring the domain name. Alternatively, he offered to accept “a few” game tickets for transfer of the disputed domain name.”
“Complainant contends that the disputed domain name incorporates his name in its entirety, that Respondent has no legitimate right or interests in the domain name and that Respondent’s practice of registering the domain names of athletes and then trading those domain names for certain memorabilia or game tickets supports a finding of bad faith registration and use of the disputed domain name.”
“Complainant contends that Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name. Respondent does not dispute this. The disputed domain name resolves to a “domain parking program” website. Such domain parking in this case is not considered a legitimate use of the disputed domain name in connection with a bona fide offering of goods or services.”
“However, the record indicates, by Respondent’s own admissions, that his primary purpose in registering the disputed domain name was to sell the disputed domain name to the Complainant for valuable consideration, in the form of memorabilia or game tickets, in excess of the documented out of pocket costs directly related to the disputed domain name. That the consideration he requested was in the form of signed memorabilia or game tickets does not avoid a bad faith finding. Respondent admits that he has a practice of registering popular athletes’ names and demanding memorabilia or game tickets in return for trading the domain name. There is no requirement in paragraph 4 of the Policy that the value demanded be above a certain threshold, only that it be in excess of the out of pocket costs directly related to the domain name.”
The next time you think it might be a good idea to register the domain name of a famous person with the hope of getting something in return (other than a “thank you,” it might be advisable to review this UDRP decision. I guess the good news for the domain registrant is that Suh and his attorneys filed a UDRP rather than a lawsuit in federal court for cybersquatting.