WIPO: Case No. D2019-1485
15 September 2019
Registered Owner vs Beneficial Owner: What’s the Difference?
A complaint concerning the domain name <learnef.com> was brought by EF Education First – one of the largest language, cultural, and exchange educational organisations in the world. Whilst they were successful in their claim, there were some procedural irregularities relating to the identity of the Respondent which are worth examining.
As per usual, the Registrar of the domain name transmitted to WIPO the registrant of the domain name and their contact details. These details, however, were different to those provided by EF Education First. They appeared to have misidentified the Respondent.
Subsequently the claim was amended to identify the Respondent correctly, but it never substantively replied to the claim against it.
The registrant of the domain name, Mr Zatari, claimed to have registered it on behalf of a client and that the client was the true beneficial owner. Yet the registrar had him listed as the owner, so he had to be named as such in order for the matter to proceed in accordance with UDRP Rules. Paragraph 1 of the Rules defines the Respondent as “[…] the holder of a domain-name registration against which a complaint is initiated.”
In spite of this rule, panels do retain the discretion to determine whether it is more appropriate to treat a third party who is the beneficial owner of the domain name as the Respondent if the registered owner asserts this to be the case. Importantly, there must also be substantial evidence that the third party is the owner. The risk of departing from the presumption that the registered owner should be the Respondent is that Respondents may rely on this discretion to escape liability. In this case there was not sufficient evidence that Mr Saleem was in fact the beneficial owner – there was merely the assertion that he was.
The discretion that panels have to decide who is the most appropriate Respondent is helpful in that it leaves room to treat registered owners effectively like trustees holding domain names for others who have actual control over the related website. Note, however, that evidence such as a signed declaration by the beneficial owner is essential for allowing panels to make the distinction.