Owning a Celebrity Domain Name

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I have seen many people selling the domain names of celebrities, athletes, politicians and other famous people. These people typically sell the names under the guise that they can be built into fan sites. Since fan sites may not generate revenue, it’s a form of expressing freedom of speech and protected under the First Amendment. While it may be true that owning a fan site on a domain name that uses the celebrity’s name is perfectly legal, by selling the name (or even buying it), the burden of bad faith may may be met, as the seller is profiting from the celebrity whose name made that domain name worth something.
If someone sells the domain name of a well-known person, they are presumably profiting from that person’s good name. By this virtue, bad faith may be claimed by the celebrity, putting the domain name in peril. As some WIPO panels have recently ruled, a change in ownership can be likened to a new registration. Because of this, buying the domain name of a famous person could be the precurser to a UDRP ruling.
Of course I am not an attorney, so this isn’t legal advice, but just my opinion and general domain advice.

1 COMMENT

  1. Elliot, what sort of domains have you seen ruled that buying the domain name is akin to a new registration? That would seem to make it impossible to sell a domain that you registered long ago and now someone has a trademark for the term. The new owner would have “registered” it after the trademark was filed.

    ***UPDATED BY ELLIOT***
    I am not a lawyer, so please don’t take this as fact. I can’t find the most recent case within the past couple months, but here’s one reference I found:
    http://www.wipo.int/amc/en/domains/decisions/html/2007/d2007-1438.html
    First, the general rule established by panels is that a subsequent acquirer of a domain name is held to have “registered” that domain name for purposes of the Policy as of the date of acquisition of the registration rights. HSBC Finance Corporation v. Clear Blue Sky Inc. and Domain Manager, WIPO Case No. D2007-0062 (“[T]he transfer of a domain name to a third party amounts to a new registration, requiring the issue of bad faith registration to be determined at the time the current registrant took possession of the domain name.”). The Panel sees no reason why an acquisition of assets should be treated any differently.

  2. Hi Eliot,
    Thanks for your last articles on this kind of topic. I hope they help people understand the difference between domainers and cybersquatters.

  3. I own a particular Celebrity domain name and that person does NOT mind me owning it (prior to registering it I have contacted that Celebrity and it told me that I can take it and have it).
    There is NOTHING wrong with having a Celebrity domain name.

    ***UPDATED BY ELLIOT***
    Correct, but if you try to sell it for a profit, that shows bad faith and they could potentially go after the name.

  4. Elliot: Way to tackle this issue as it is one of the most common “I didn’t know” areas of cybersquatting law. We have posted recently on this issue as well, providing examples of cybersquatting sites on famous names. If you do anything with the site that is commercial, including selling it for a profit, you are likely in violation of the the UDRP. Here are some examples.
    http://tcattorney.typepad.com/domainnamedispute/2008/04/american-idol-a.html
    http://tcattorney.typepad.com/domainnamedispute/2008/03/cybersquatting.html

  5. Hello Elliot. I own several domains and have ran a site for over 13 years. Now, the actress who the site is about has sent me a Domain Name Notice of Infringment. Can they take them from me..? I own chloesevigny.com, .info, .net, and chloestevenssevigny.com. I offered to give up .com and .net as long as I could keep .info and have a link to my site from the official one…And since I put so many years into the site (never making a single dime from it), I also requested that I could have a page on their official site..? But they want all the domain names and said I can’t even keep .info, and ChloeStevensSevigny.com.

    Any advice is geatly appreciated.

    Grahame Roberts

    ***UPDATED BY ELLIOT***
    I am not an attorney, so I wouldn’t be the best person to advise you – sorry.

  6. I just think that if youre careful with the domains and link them to their domains, push the traffic on, not publish anything out of the ordinary, and notify them/give them the option to buy back at a low cost or cost that is on estibot or (market value). Not hold it to ransom that should be fine.
    That’s my own theory. As soon as you start making demands that means you are holding their sites/artist name to ransom. For me I would in my spare time notify artists and publish with a forward link to their products.
    And a contact they may buy back. Just an idea! Especially if you own for a long time or you dont know or you buy with a good intention. Just be ethical.

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