In March, I reported that the Cleveland Browns had filed a UDRP for Browns.com, and the UDRP decision was released today. The single panelist, Dr. Clive N.A. Trotman, found in favor of the Cleveland Browns, and the domain name will be transferred to the football team ownership, barring any litigation.
The respondent, a resident of Italy, did not provide a response to the UDRP. This seems to have played a role in the decision as the panelist stated, “The Respondent has not offered any such refutation, or replied at all, and the Panel is not aware from the evidence of any means by which the Respondent could succeed under the provisions of paragraph 4(c) of the Policy, or otherwise, to establish rights or legitimate interests in the disputed domain name.”
In my opinion, if the respondent doesn’t give a good reason for why he has a right to the domain name, I don’t think it should be expected for the panelist to find a reason on his own, especially in light of other information provided in the UDRP proceeding.
One piece of evidence that seriously doomed the respondent’s chances was the usage of the Wayback Machine, found at Archive.org. According to the decision, “In 2005, specific references and links appeared, to among other things, “Cleveland Browns”, “Cleveland Browns Tickets” and “National Football League”. By 2006, there were additional references to associated merchandise and to other football clubs, with similar content through 2009. The Complainant has produced evidence of content strongly impinging on its trademark and activities until January 4, 2011, interspersed with some periods of inactivity.”
It should be noted that there is a way for domain owners to get archived information removed from Archive.org, but that’s a topic for another post. This is important in the event a domain owner purchases a name from someone who may have previously infringed on the rights of another company.
One interesting facet of the decision was that there was a name change in the Whois between the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011. While some panelists may have used this information to say that it was a new registration and not consider the real registration date, which is bad for domain owners, this panelist provided some rationale for a possible Whois registrant contact change:
“One possible interpretation of the facts of the present case is that the disputed domain name may have remained within the same entity, under the same guiding mind, before and after the registrant, administrative, technical and billing contacts were changed from “Gioacchino Zerbo” to “Andrea Denise Dinoia” on or before January 12, 2011; and therefore a new registration did not occur with that event.”
In my interpretation of the decision, the fact that there were football related links, specifically related to the complainant’s Cleveland Browns, coupled with the fact that the respondent didn’t respond to the UDRP, the panelist didn’t have much of a choice.
We’ll see if litigation is filed prior to the change of registrant, but it appears the Cleveland Browns will be able to move from ClevelandBrowns.com to Browns.com.