Showdown at the Domain Name Corral: Property Rights and Personal Jurisdiction over Squatters, Poachers, and other Parasites

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University of Pittsburgh Law Review


This paper on domain names disputes has two main goals. The first is to analyze the principal points of litigation in domain name disputes, namely, personal jurisdiction and trademark liability. The second is to propose an analytic framework to better help resolve matters of jurisdiction and liability. Regarding personal jurisdiction, domain names are problematic because an internet site can be viewed almost anywhere, potentially subjecting the domain name owner to suit everywhere. For example, should a Florida domain name owner automatically be subject to suit in Alaska where the site can be viewed? If not, then where? Regarding liability, trademark law would normally permit multiple persons to use identical or similar trademarks, so long as the products or locations are sufficiently remote. Put differently, in the real world, UNITED AIRLINES can co-exist with the UNITED WAY. But on the internet, there can only be one UNITED.COM. As an aid to analysis, the paper proposes three categories of domain name disputes, with suggestions on how to resolve jurisdictional and liability issues for each. First, some disputes concern cybersquatters, those who speculatively purchase domain names with the intention of selling them for profit. Second, other disputes concern 'parasites,' those who have no intention of selling the domain, but instead hope to gain financially from confused users. Third, some disputes concern 'twins,' where the domain name owner and challenger both have legitimate claims to using the same name in the brick-and-mortar world. Through these three categories, the paper suggests ways of resolving issues of personal jurisdiction and trademark liability.

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Publication Date

Summer 1997