The Curators of the University of Missouri attempted to reverse domain name hijack the domain name MUHealthcare.com, a World Intellectual Property Organization panelist ruled.
The group that oversees the university system filed the case against Pamela Holley, an alumna of University of Missouri. She registered the domain name after she believed that she was billed for services not rendered after bringing her daughter to a health facility owned by the university.
Holley ran a gripe site for a while and then let the domain go dormant. When she first registered the domain in 2003, the university’s newspaper wrote a story about it. A faculty member of University of Missouri’s law school was quoted as saying the use of a domain name based on a trademark for a genuine “gripe site” is likely to be protected as free speech in the United States.
It seems to have dropped off the university’s radar until Holley forwarded the domain to the white supremacist site Stormfront last year.
While World Intellectual Property Organization panelist Scott Blackmer noted that forwarding the domain to a white supremacist site might be bad faith, he said that it’s clear that the domain wasn’t originally registered in bad faith.
Holley didn’t ask for reverse domain name hijacking but Blackmer said it was warranted in this case. He wrote:
A complainant should never underestimate the challenge of establishing bad faith in the registration of a domain name that was created nearly two decades ago. The Complainant here showed that it was capable of using available tools such as the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to establish its own common law trademark rights, and it is inexcusable that the Complainant did not employ such tools to establish when the Respondent obtained the Domain Name and how the Respondent used the Domain Name for ten years. Moreover, the Respondent here was not hidden; she registered the Domain Name in her own name (although also naming an organization that seems not to be established as a legal entity) and gave an interview to the Complainant’s newspaper within weeks after registering the Domain Name. She was then, and continues to be, an alumna of the Complainant and a patient in the Complainant’s medical system, about which she published comments. The Complaint attaches one of the articles published by the Complainant’s newspaper, but the Complainant apparently failed to uncover the more relevant original articles and, therefore, misleadingly speculated about the timing of the Respondent’s acquisition of the Domain Name. One of those articles even quoted a member of the Complainant’s own law faculty concerning the legal challenges that the Complainant would face in any action against the Respondent over the Domain Name, yet the Complaint does not address those obvious challenges arising from the Respondent’s registration and use of the Domain Name for a genuine criticism site. It may be possible somehow to argue for bad faith in the registration of the Domain Name on the facts of this case, but this Complaint reflects no credible effort to do so.
The Panel finds in these circumstances that the Complaint represents an instance of attempted Reverse Domain Name Hijacking.
Thompson Coburn LLP represented the university. Holley was self-represented.