COVID-19 Impacts on Domain Name Arbitration

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every aspect of our lives and that includes domain name arbitration.

Without seeking to undermine the seriousness of the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has affected people, this post outlines a few of the ways domain name arbitration has been impacted in the face of the global pandemic.

COVID-19 pandemic-related delays

The COVID-19 pandemic has arisen as a reason for delays within UDRP proceedings, such as for late filing.

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-19 pandemic-related delays.

However, parties should note that they still need to provide reasons as to why the COVID-19 pandemic has caused delays in proceedings, rather than simply stating it as a reason in itself.

Increased shift to online trading

When businesses began closing their brick and mortar stores and moving online, registrars saw 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 dramatic rise in phishing scams.

COVID-19-related 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 we’ve seen 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 2020, 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 logo.

At a time in which false information and public panic is rife, the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (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 to the rightful owner – a testament to the time efficient and effective the UDRP process.

Reposted with permission from Neil Brown QC.  This article was first published on Domain Times.