There are very few ways in which our lives have not been impacted by COVID-19 this year - and domain name arbitration is no exception.
Without seeking to undermine the seriousness of the ways COVID-19 has affected people personally, this article outlines a number of the ways domain name arbitration has been impacted in the face of a global pandemic.
COVID Related Delays
On a procedural note, COVID has arisen as a reason for delays within UDRP proceedings, such as for late filing.
On March 31, 2020, pursuant to authority granted under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”), the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) and the U.S. Copyright Office (“USCO”) each announced that it will, in limited cases, extend statutory filing deadlines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Similarly, under UDRP Rule 10 Panels have the discretion to make decisions to ensure fairness between the parties - which may include allowing flexibility and time extensions in the case of COVID related delays.
However parties should note that they still need to provide reasons as to why COVID has caused delays in proceedings - rather than simply stating it as a reason in itself.
Increased Shift to Online Trading
As businesses closed their brick and mortar stores and moved to online offerings, registrars have also seen a huge increase in domain registrations. For example, the .au Domain Administration saw a 31% increase in registrations compared to the same time last year.
This shift to an online space, combined with more people working from home and using less secure IT systems, also saw a rise in phishing scams.
COVID Domain Names
Just as the public rushed to clear supermarket shelves of hand sanitiser and toilet paper, entrepreneurial registrants were quick to register domain names pertaining to hand sanitiser, vaccines and medical companies.
On the less sinister end of the spectrum were disputed domains such as <dettoldisinfectantspray.com>, <dettolhandsanitizer.com>, <dettolhandwash.com> (WIPO Case D2020-0990) and <facemaskswalgreens.online> (ADR Forum FA2006001899372).
However, more serious imitations have also arisen, including <gileadcopay.co> (WIPO Case DCO2020-0019), <gilead.health> (WIPO Case D2020-0731), <facebookcovid19.com> (WIPO Case D2020-0885), <sanofivaccine.com> (WIPO Case No. D2020-0617) and <lillycovidtesting.com> (WIPO Case 2020-0886).
Even Google became a UDRP complainant in May, in a case involving the domain <floogle.org>. This domain (a portmanteau of flu and google) asserted itself as a source of COVID related information and advice, and even embedded a page bearing Google’s famous logo.
At a time in which false information and public panic is rife, the UDRP has provided a vital mechanism for transferring these illegitimate domains and protecting vulnerable consumers. In each of these example cases the domains were transferred - serving as a testament to the time efficient and effective UDRP process.