WWF fails to wrestle domain name from holder

Out-Law News | 13 Nov 2006 | 2:30 pm | 2 min. read

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has failed in its attempt to gain control of the domain name WWF.com. The name was used until recently as a web forum concerned with professional wrestling.

The domain name arbitration panel of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) ruled against WWF and in favour of the name's current owner, Gregory Ricks of Texas. Ricks bought the domain name in 2003 and for a period used it as the location for a forum discussing wrestling matches put on by the World Wrestling Federation.

WWF had previously won a major court victory over rights to use the initials WWF. The High Court in England ordered the Federation to cancel or change any domain names which used the initials WWF.

The Federation chose not to transfer the name to WWF, which was just one of the options offered to it by the court. The name was acquired by Frank Baach, who subsequently sold it to Ricks, reportedly for $10,000.

"The Panel notes that the Complainant [WWF] apparently did not obtain an order from the Court in England requiring the Federation to transfer the disputed Domain Name to the Complainant, which allowed the name to become disused and, as happened, to be picked up by the various services which scavenge for discarded domain names," said the WIPO judgment.

Though WWF had prepared a WIPO case against Baach, it took much longer to begin proceedings against Ricks. Despite the fact that Ricks owned the domain from January 2003 onwards, it took WWF a further three and a half years to file its case.

"Whilst there is no time limit for filing a complaint under the Policy, it can become more difficult for a Complainant to infer bad faith registration the greater the distance between the dates of registration and of the filing of the Complaint," said the WIPO ruling.

WWF argued that Ricks registered and held the domain "in bad faith". It argued that the site was held for the purposes of earning 'click through' advertising revenue from visitors seeking WWF itself. There was a period before the wrestling forum was established when the site was only used for 'click through' revenue generation, it argued.

The WIPO panel found that some uses of the site were in bad faith, such as the inclusion of wildlife related links, but that that was not evidence of bad faith registration because it happened a long time after the registration.

"The interval between the Domain Name registration in January 2003 and the appearance of wild-life etc. links on the website some time after April 2005 is just too long to justify an inference of bad faith registration at the time of registration," it said.

Those links only appeared after a period during which the site was used as a wrestling forum. "If what the Respondent asserts is true, then he has shown 'demonstrable preparations' to use the name in respect of a legitimate business (the Web Wrestling Forum) before notice of a dispute," it said, "thus bringing the Respondent within one of the provisions of the Policy. In that event, the second and third limbs of the Policy have not been proved by the Complainant."

The panel denied WWF's complaint, and the address stays in the hands of Ricks.

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