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Judge lambasts Armani in domain name ruling

Artist retains control of Armani.com

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A Canadian artist has won the right to the www.armani.com domain, following a remarkable hearing at arbitrator WIPO.

The case is unusual in that, despite the clothes chain's lawyers insisting the artist had no legitimate right to the domain, a WIPO judge disagreed since the artist's name is Anand Ramnath Mani - shortened simply to A. R. Mani.

There have a number of cases in the past where someone has changed their name by deed poll to match a contested domain and then used this as a defence, but Mr Mani has had his name since birth and went to great lengths to prove the fact.

That in itself is not enough to prevent WIPO from applying its flawed dispute resolution rules and handing over the name to the big corporation. However, in the judge's report (as yet unavailable on WIPO's site, but it will be here when it gets around to updating decisions), it is clear that the lawyers for the Armani corporation damaged their own case through arrogance and playing hard and fast with the truth.

To remind you, WIPO needs to be persuaded of three things before it hands over a domain. One, that the domain infringes a trademark; two, that the current owner has no legitimate interest in the domain; and three, that the current owner did not register it in bad faith.

Clearly the domain armani.com does infringe on Armani's trademark, so that was not in dispute (the sole judge disregarded a filing from Mr Mani regarding Canadian law on trademarks, saying it was not relevant. This is a habit of WIPO's - refusing to tie in current law with its procedures).

The Armani lawyers reckon that Mr Mani registered the domain to get attention off the back of Armani, and that he could have registered a-r-mani.com or somesuch. It also says that by asking for just under $2,000 for the domain in 1997, he has shown evidence of bad faith.

However, the judge - Nick Gardner - condemned them for failing to tell the full story behind their dispute with Mr Mani. The original complaint did not state that the corporation originally offered Mr Mani Canadian $1,250 (£570) for the domain. Mr Mani said that wouldn't cover the costs of him reprinting stationery etc and asked for US$1,935 plus permission to use the domain www.amani.com.

As the judge points out: "The figure seems entirely reasonable - It is a relatively modest sum, far removed from the sort of amounts which were typically sought (especially in 1997) by 'cybersquatters'." Armani refused the sum and the request to work off another domain.

The judge also concerns himself with "a number of inconsistencies" in the Armani lawyer's complaint, including whether Mr Mani was actually running a Web site on the domain (he was not).

Mr Gardner said it was very common for people to register the domain of their initials and surname. He also said that Mr Mani's response to legal threats was evidence that he was not acting in bad faith. As such, Mr Mani is entitled to the domain. But going further than that, Mr Gardner said in his decision that: "The Panel finds this Complaint to be an abuse of the administrative proceeding."

Mr Mani, who is a graphic artist and lives in Vancouver, was delighted by the decision and said he was considering putting up a site due to its popularity. "I might now put up something on some social issues or an arts site," he said.

He said he had spent Canadian $10,000 on legal fees but was determined not to back down. He is also unsure of the site's worth and wasn't sure how much Armani would have to offer for him to had it over. But one thing's for sure - it's going to be a whole lot more than if Armani hadn't taken him to WIPO. ®

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