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Out of Favor: Ron Paul loses bid to wrestle domain names from fans

As discussed in a previous post, former Rep. Ron Paul undertook formal legal action with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) earlier this year to recover the online properties of www.ronpaul.com and www.ronpaul.org from his fans. To succeed, the congressman had to prove:

  1. the domain names were identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which he had rights;
  2. the domains’ owner had no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domains; and
  3. the domains had been registered and were being used in bad faith.

The WIPO Administrative Panel determined that Mr. Paul failed, at the very least, to establish the second prong. The domains’ owner used the domain names to operate an independent and legitimate fan site, providing a forum for political speech. Thus, the registrant made a “legitimate and noncommercial or fair use” of the domain names. In fact, the domains’ owner offered, at one point, to transfer the .ORG domain name to Mr. Paul free of charge (an offer he rejected). For these reasons, Mr. Paul lost his bid to wrestle the domain names from his fans.

To add insult to injury, the WIPO Administrative Panel also determined that by initiating this proceeding, Mr. Paul committed an act of “reverse domain name hijacking.” In other words, Ron Paul brought the action in bad faith.

If the lesson from the first post was to avoid domain name disputes by registering for the domain name before someone else does, the lesson from this post is to avoid bringing a legal action until you understand whether the facts support your claim. While it is certainly frustrating when someone else owns a domain name that you believe rightfully belongs to you, it does not necessarily mean they have done anything wrong. Each case turns on its own unique set of facts, and appreciating whether those facts justify legal action is often more complicated than it initially appears.

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