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Buying the SUCKS.COM version of your brand?

April 14, 2009

Domain names are an important aspect of branding.  When registering domain names people often wonder which domains to buy.  Some advisers advocate buying the version of your brand to protect against aggrieved consumers who may want to vent anger against the brand.

However, it is clear from the case of blogger and investment advisor Mike Morgan reported in out-law that such purchases are a waste of money because people can use some other version of the brand name if they wanted to criticize the brand.  The lack of the name will not be a barrier.

For example, Morgan is using the domain name to vent his anger against  Goldman Sachs, the investment bank.

He has received a letter to cease doing so, and is fighting the case.  His chances may be quite good given that both WIPO and the US courts, (before whom Mike Morgan may have to appear to justify his use of the domain name) generally regard legitimate protest sites as acceptable uses of a brand name.

In the Red Bull case control over the domain name was handed to Red Bull – however, that was because the site hosted there sold a rival drink and was not a legitimate protest site.

Where there is simply non-commercial use, then ‘gripe sites’ or protest sites as they are often called, are unlikely to be making trade mark use of a brand.  Therefore there would be no risk of confusion.  In such situations it is possible to argue there is a ‘legitimate interest’ in using the brand name, and no ‘bad faith’ to justify transfer of the domain name to the trade mark owner.