Two weeks ago, in Is Godaddy a Mass Cybersquatter?, I discussed pay-per-click sites: The ubiquitous “sponsored links” pages that have become the cockroaches of the internet. Perhaps one day they will evolve into useful search tools, but today they are not even close.
Domain speculators and cybersquatters alike (the two terms are not synonymous) re-direct their domains to “sponsored links” pages. They are simply playing the averages. If you can register a domain name for $8 a year, then all you need to do is
generate $8.01 per year in pay-per-click fees to make it a profitable endeavor. Many make much more than that, but you get the point.
The links on these pages are usually generated automatically. I’m not bright enough to understand the algorithm, but some computer program, somewhere, takes a look at the domain name and matches it up with keywords, then provides sponsored links on the pay-per-click page. For example, motoguzzi.us brings you to a page that has links that refer to Moto Guzzi motorcycles. However, that doesn’t mean that Moto Guzzi paid for the links. Someone else may have simply bid for those keywords. I am certain that the registrant of motoguzzi.us hasn’t so much as seen the site in a long time, if ever. He most likely didn’t choose the links that are there.
This lack of direct control is often a central theme in a cybersquatter’s response to a UDRP complaint. At least one UDRP panel bought this argument. See Admiral Insurance Services v. Dicker, WIPO Case No. D2005-0241 (“the Panel accepts that the terms under which Google makes its Adsense advertisements available do not permit the Respondent to control them . . .”). However, that panel included David Sorkin, which makes its findings suspect. (He rules for complainants less than 1/3 of the time, and has earned more than $100,000 in UDRP panelist fees by making gullible decisions like this. Do the math).
The prevailing trend is that the “willful blindness” argument is not valid, as illustrated in the recent decision: State of Florida, Florida Department of Management Services v. Bent Pettersen, WIPO Case No. D2008-0039.
Even if the content of that portal website was generated automatically – such that the Respondent was not directly aware of its precise content – the Respondent must, at least, have been aware that the website would be determined by search terms relating to the value of the mark that he wished to exploit. This would appear to be the natural result of ‘parking’ the disputed domain name at the website. Further, the Respondent is ultimately responsible for the content of the website within his control. As such, the Respondent could not avoid responsibility for the automatic generation of links at the subject website.
In coming to this conclusion, the Panels referred to another recent case, Villeroy & Boch AG v. Mario Pingerna, WIPO Case No. D2007-1912.
The Respondent is responsible for the content of any webpage hosted at the disputed domain name. It cannot evade this responsibility by means of its contractual relationship with the Registrar. The relationship between a domain name registrant and the Registrar does not affect the rights of a complainant under the Policy (cf Ogden Publications, Inc. v. MOTHEARTHNEWS.COM c/o Whois IDentity Shield/OGDEN PUBLICATIONS INC., Administrator, Domain WIPO Case No. D2007-1373).
See also Alpine Entertainment Group, Inc. v. Walter Alvarez, WIPO Case No. D2007-1082 (“[h]owever the content of a website may be determined under such arrangements, an assertion of descriptive rights or legitimate interest by a Respondent does not sit comfortably with a denial of knowledge or responsibility for the presence of said content.”); Asian World of Martial Arts Inc. v. Texas International Property Associates, WIPO Case No. D2007-1415 (citing AEG v. Alvarez).