Recent Case Notes & Commentary

Champagne but no celebrations: a case of RDNH

Structure Cellars, LLC v. Carolyn Holt

WIPO Case No. D2020-0948

15th May 2020

Soured business relationships are fodder for bad UDRP complaints. When the complainant’s motivation is to reclaim a domain name solely because it sees it as a business asset, the complaint is often deficient. The reason is that the domain name is usually registered in pursuit of a genuine business agreement – that is to say, not in bad faith. Unfortunately, even the most optimistic ventures fail from time to time and the question as to who rightly controls the domain name arises.

In Structure Cellars v. Carolyn Holt the Complainant – a winery owner based in Seattle, collaborated with the Respondent to open a champagne bar called House of Pagne. The Respondent registered <houseofpagne.com> in her name and seems to have worked at the bar for a short time but later left… taking the domain name with her. She submitted that she registered the name four months before entering into any arrangement with the Complainant, which become one among many reasons why this claim was denied and further, why the Panel found that it was also an instance of reverse domain name hijacking.

Perhaps the Complainant’s first critical mistake was choosing to be unrepresented in the matter. Any legal counsel would probably have told the Complainant that it didn’t stand a chance of winning because (1) it did not own any trademark rights relating to the domain name (and their pending applications would not suffice), (2) the domain name was registered in good faith and, (3) the UDRP provides no means of adjudicating on whether a Respondent is “disrupting a business” if no evidence is provided to that end, which it was not. Counsel would, hopefully, have presented a better case, even if it meant making bricks without straw.

In the Complainant’s submission, it did not address the fact that the domain name was registered months before the champagne bar was launched. There was also no evidence provided as to any of the obvious issues in this case including contractual agreements, or the relationship between the parties. UDRP forums provide sufficient guidance to Complainants such that they would know these issues should be addressed. Such a fundamental failure will not be forgiven merely because of the absence of legal counsel. These are common sense issues but they are frequently ignored by people who are having problems with their business partner and have realised too late in the game that they failed to protect one of their most important assets – the domain name.

The result was an ignominious loss for the Complainant and an adverse finding of Reverse Domain Name Hijacking against it.