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“Gripe” or “Suck” sites are websites created for the purposes of complaining about and/or criticising a business. In order to attract the attention they seek, gripe sites often register a domain name that incorporates the target business’s trade mark in some way. For example, in Leonard Cheshire Foundation v Drake a disgruntled former Leonard Cheshire employee registered the domain name www.leonard-cheshire.com (whereas the “genuine” website for the Leonard Cheshire Foundation was to be found at www.leonardcheshire.org) and proceeded to use it as a gripe site.
Invariably the similarity between domain names coupled with the presence of the target’s trade mark or branding on the gripe site, can lead to a business’s customers, or potential customers, accessing a gripe site (where they will usually be greeted by inflammatory, and often defamatory, material about the business) instead of the target’s own website. This can inevitably cause real damage to the target business.
Gripe sites are a common method for individuals to put pressure on businesses quickly, cheaply and effectively. A gripe site which attracted a fair amount of media attention was that relating to the domain name www.walmart50.com. In July 2011, Wal-Mart registered that domain name in celebration of its 50 years in business. A third party proceeded to register three very similar domain names: walmartat50.com, walmartat50.net and walmartat50.org. All three domain names redirected to the same website which included unfounded allegations about Wal-Mart’s employment practises. Wal-Mart subsequently applied for transfer and cancellation of the domain names using the Uniform Dispute Resolution Process (see below for further information).
There are two key options available to businesses that are being targeted by a gripe site:
1. Commence legal proceedings – Claims that may be available in these circumstances include passing off, trade mark infringement and/or defamation.
Courts have a wide range of remedies at their disposal, including the power to award damages to a successful claimant, in addition to its legal costs. However, such an award is of limited value in circumstances where the defendant has few assets.
2. Application for transfer or cancellation of the disputed domain name using the Uniform Dispute Resolution Process (“UDRP”) – In contrast to commencing formal legal proceedings, the UDRP route may be a more cost-effective and generally less public alternative (although the decision will be published). For instance, a UDRP application to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (“WIPO”) will usually be decided within 39 calendar days from commencement of the complaint, and the application fee can be as little as $1,500.
Commencement of UDRP proceedings results in the disputed domain name being “locked” until such time as a decision is reached by the UDRP administrative panel. As such, the registrant of the domain name will be unable to update its website whilst proceedings are ongoing.
There are various hurdles that a complainant will need to overcome if a UDRP application is to succeed, including:
A complainant must also satisfy the substantive grounds for an application to succeed, which are that:
A complainant will need to choose an approved dispute resolution service provider that has jurisdiction over the dispute. Applications relating to “co.uk” domain names must be made to Nominet under the Nominet Dispute Resolution Service. Applications relating to all other domain names are usually made pursuant to the UDRP.
If the complainant succeeds, the domain name of the gripe site in question will be transferred to it (or cancelled).
Our commercial team can assist in advising on potential legal proceedings, and UDRP proceedings, in these circumstances. Please contact James Sarjantson on 0113 201 0401 or email ku.oc1701660315.fcl@1701660315nostn1701660315ajras1701660315j1701660315 for more information.
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