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Bill Gates's Corbis loses battle for corbis.net

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Stock photography company Corbis has lost its battle to gain control of the domain corbis.net. The company's claims that the small web design firm that owns the name registered it in bad faith were rejected.

The case was heard by a panellist of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, which rules on domain name disputes. In order for an address to be transferred under WIPO's rules, the challenger must prove that the domain is identical or similar to something which it has rights over, that the other party has no rights to the term in the domain, and that the current holder of the domain has acted in bad faith.

The WIPO panellist said that Corbis's claims that Corbis Internet had tried to profit from the domain's associations with Corbis were not proved. Corbis Internet appears to be a business registered in Malaysia but run by John Pickworth of Lancashire, England.

"Under the policy, the burden of proof rests on the complainant to prove bad faith registration and use," said the ruling. "The circumstance in this case that the website corbis.net in the past contained links to websites of third parties is not as such evidence that [Corbis Internet] sought to intentionally profit from a likelihood of confusion with the [Corbis] to direct internet traffic to his website under the disputed domain name."

"As [Corbis Internet] has explained, the relevant websites are those of some of its customers. This is confirmed by the evidence, submitted by [Corbis], of correspondence with one of these customers," it said.

Corbis referred to a part of the policy governing disputes that says that holders of domain names cannot create a deliberate likelihood of confusion with a company holding rights to the term. But the panel found in favour of Corbis Internet, which said that it had never offered products or services on its site that would compete with Corbis.

"[Corbis Internet] contends that the disputed domain name does not create a likelihood of confusion with [Corbis]'s trademark since he has never offered anything remotely similar to the services or products offered by them," said the ruling. "[He] further states that he has never engaged in online promotions or advertising activities, nor has he used or joined an affiliate or click-thru scheme under the disputed domain name."

Pickworth said he has been known by the name Corbis since his teenage years when he used the name as a nickname. He provided a print-out of his school website and photocopies of technical drawings signed by "Corbis" in 1979.

Corbis claimed that Corbis Internet was holding the domain without using it, which is known as passive holding and is often a characteristic of cybersquatting. But the WIPO panellist said: "The fact that the website has been offline for short periods of time due to apparent technical problems does not constitute compelling evidence of passive holding."

Corbis Internet made a counter-claim for reverse domain hijacking, claiming that Corbis was using the WIPO process to gain control of corbis.net in bad faith. The panel rejected that claim.

Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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