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Tom Cruise wins TomCruise.com

Decision exposes systemic flaws

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Implications

If this decision is used for future decisions (which is what happens with unhelpful frequency), the implication is that the slightest income from a website or related website (Google Ads?) could be used to undermine a freedom of speech defence and see domains handed over.

The panel also unconvincingly dismisses Burgar's point that a 10-year delay is unacceptable. Burgar quotes a UDRP decision by a different domain arbitrator (NAF) in which it decided that a two-year was sufficient delay for rights in the domain to have been lost. The panel dismisses this, saying that the panel in that case had made a "mystifying" decision and denied that there was a "meaningful precedent under the Policy for refusing to enforce trademark rights on the basis of a delay in bringing a claim following use of a disputed domain name".

Since there was also not "substantial evidence" that indicated Cruise had approved of or condoned Burgar's use of the domain, it was "not prepared to import a bar against his cause".

It's hard to escape the feeling that the WIPO panel has, for the 1,000th time, looked for a reason to hand over the domain rather than follow the resolution process to reach a decision.

Flawed system

Since future decisions are frequently made by referring to older decisions, rather than taking each case on its own merits, an already flawed system is starting to wander off on its own, unwelcome tangent.

This flawed process is also demonstrated in the choice of panellists. WIPO itself chooses individual panellists in an opaque and controversial process which, it is well documented, hugely favours those who choose most regularly for the complainant.

In a three-person panel, the complainant choses one panellist, the respondent the second, and the two seek to reach agreement on the third. If they cannot, WIPO decides for them.

In the Tom Cruise case, Cruise's lawyers chose Sally M. Abel, who, according to the most recent figures we have from UDRPinfo.com, has voted in the complainant favour in 83 per cent of cases. Burgar chose David Sorkin who has voted in the complainant favour in just 33 per cent of cases. The 50 per cent disparity between the two illustrates the highly unusual differences in opinion between experts in a process that has run for nearly a decade.

The presiding panellist, chosen it is assumed by WIPO, is one of the most frequent UDRP panellists, Frederick M. Abbott, who has voted in the complainant's favour in 79 per cent of cases.

The UDRP process (there is no appeal) has become so polarised that if you were provided with the names of the panellists in any given case, you could predict with almost complete certainly what the outcome was, regardless of the merits of the case actually being heard.

So while Jeff Burgar is an extreme example of a domain registrant, Tom Cruise's victory serves only to highlight the need to reform the domain arbitration process. ®

Related link

WIPO's decision on TomCruise.com

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