You might need a flow chart to track what happened in this weird dispute.
Creatd, Inc., which runs a site called Vocal, has won a cybersquatting dispute against Epik owner Rob Monster over the domain name Vocl.com. It’s one of the zaniest UDRP cases I’ve read in a while.
Mike Lindell, the MyPillow guy most famous for claiming the 2020 U.S. presidential election was stolen, planned to launch a social media site called Vocl. But Creatd objected to that, so Lindell quickly pivoted to the name Frank.
But there was a lot going on behind the scenes with the domain vocl.com during that time. Here’s what happened, according to World Intellectual Property Organization panelist David Bernstein:
As of early March 2021, the record owner of the disputed domain name was Anonymize, which was holding the disputed domain name on behalf of its beneficial owner, Ashwin Vinkhona. On or about March 7, 2021, representatives of Mike Lindell, an American businessman and the CEO of MyPillow, contacted Epik and Anoymize to seek to purchase the disputed domain name. Mr. Lindell intended to use the disputed domain name in connection with a new social media service with an emphasis on free speech that he planned to call VOCL. Mr. Monster, on behalf of Mr. Vinkhona, negotiated the sale of the disputed domain name to Mr. Lindell’s representatives. On March 9, 2021, Mr. Lindell’s agent, Todd Carter, purchased the disputed domain name for Mr. Lindell from Mr. Vinkhona for USD40,000 (with Mr. Monster receiving approximately USD5,000 as a broker commission). Shortly thereafter, the disputed domain name resolved to a website that stated:
While waiting on Vocl.com to launch why not check out LindellTV.
Also on March 9, 2021, Mr. Lindell filed a U.S. application for the mark VOCL and shortly afterwards announced to media outlets that his new social media service would be named VOCL.
The Complainant sent a cease and desist letter to Mr. Lindell on March 11, 2021 objecting to his planned use of the name VOCL and demanding that Mr. Lindell transfer the domain name to the Complainant. In an interview the next day, Mr. Lindell responded to a question regarding his new site’s name by stating that “we looked into [the name VOCL] and we believe it would be confusing, so we are going to announce a different name and URL.”
Following Mr. Lindell’s announcement, his agents sought to cancel the purchase of the disputed domain name, but the transaction had already been consummated and the purchase price (less commission) had already been distributed to Mr. Vinkhona. After learning that the sale had been consummated, instead of transferring the disputed domain name to the Complainant, Mr. Lindell’s agent engaged in discussions to sell the disputed domain name to the Respondent. On or about March 13, 2021, Mr. Carter (as agent for Mr. Lindell) sold the disputed domain name to Mr. Monster, for USD10,000 (with Mr. Monster using the Anonymize privacy proxy), which represented a 75 per cent reduction from the price that Mr. Lindell paid for the disputed domain name just four days earlier.
So that’s the final story, according to Bernstein. But it’s not the original story he got. Bernstein notes:
In its first Response, the Respondent claimed that it never transferred the disputed domain name to Mr. Lindell, and that the Respondent had owned the disputed domain name without interruption since September 2020, long before Mr. Lindell announced his plans to start a social media service under the name VOCL. This assertion was inconsistent with the verification provided by the Registrar (of which Mr. Monster is CEO); the Registrar had informed the Center that the “the date on which the current Registrant [whom it identified by name as Mr. Monster] registered (or acquired the registration of) the domain name” was January 22, 2000.
Oh, there’s more:
Following the Panel’s request for clarification, the Respondent submitted a supplemental submission in which it represented that Mr. Monster personally acquired the disputed domain name in September 2020, and that, although Epik had discussions with Mr. Lindell’s representatives, Mr. Lindell’s purchase of the disputed domain name was never consummated. In particular, the Respondent claimed in its first supplemental submission that Mr. Lindell’s company transferred USD40,000 to Epik in escrow pending due diligence on the name, but once Mr. Lindell abandoned his interest in the VOCL name, Mr. Lindell cancelled the purchase and the USD40,000 was returned to him from escrow without Mr. Lindell having ever acquired title to the disputed domain name. These representations were made in a submission signed by the Respondent’s counsel (although counsel did state that the Respondent was still searching for documentary support and that the Respondent would supplement the record if it were successful in identifying further information).
Six days later, Monster filed a sworn statement correcting the previous statements, more or less in line with the factual history Bernstein published in the decision.
All of this got Bernstein rather hot under the collar. He wrote:
This is an unusual case in that the Respondent is the CEO of the Registrar and also is described as the “governor” and “head” of the Registrar’s subsidiary, Anonymize, which was used for a privacy shield. These relationships create an inherent conflict of interest since the Panel relies on the Registrar to provide accurate information in response to the verification request, but the Respondent, who also is the CEO of the Registrar, would have an interest in hiding accurate information about the ownership of the disputed domain name (not to mention other domain names it may acquire) in order to strengthen the Respondent’s arguments with respect to its purported legitimate interest and potential bad faith.
Bernstein noted that, on the basis of the dates in the original registrar verification, he would have not found registration in bad faith. And he pointed out there were still inconsistencies:
The information provided both by the Registrar and in the Response was materially inaccurate, and it was only after the Panel issued procedural orders seeking clarification that the Respondent corrected the record and admitted that Mr. Monster personally was the registrant but that he only acquired the disputed domain name in March 2021, after the Complainant acquired its trademark and after Mr. Lindell announced and then abandoned his plans. Even still, there remain unexplained inconsistencies in the documentary material submitted by the Respondent: the emails between the Registrar and Mr. Carter indicate that the seller of the disputed domain name on March 9, 2021 was Mr. Monster (not Mr. Vinkhona) and that there was no broker involved, but the internal escrow documentation the Respondent submitted states that Mr. Monster was the broker for Mr. Vinkhona.
He asked WIPO to share the decision with ICANN and questioned if there should be restrictions on registrars, their agents or employees from owning domain names. Of course, that’s a ridiculous request. You can’t ask a registrar to tell its employees they can’t register domains for themselves. But it’s understandable why Bernstein is frustrated, and certainly, there should be rules (and penalties) in place that require a registrar to provide accurate information to panels.
Bernstein ordered the domain transferred to Creatd.
Could be wrong but wasn’t there a whole lot of shady business practices @ DigitalTown which Rob Monster was also CEO of previously? SEC should’ve been involved on that one with all the insider buying while sinking the boat simultaneously.
I have no vested interest in either but someone should be questioning the characters in this charade.
DigitalTown is old news. Rob is not even involved today.
Old story, irrelevant, fyi now sunk lower, after they forcibly pushed out, Rob. Hindsight says, everything worked
foe the best.
>>You can’t ask a registrar to tell its employees they
>>can’t register domains for themselves.
You can’t tell a registrar owner they can’t own its domain name. 😀
They file the “cease & desist” to whomever acquires the domain “vocl.com” without actually putting effort, to acquiring the .com.
Lindell should have went with his initial “Vocyl” launch, despite threat by the bullies.
Rob’s protecting his passion, free speech, will be interesting to follow. Good luck, Rob!
Epik so dirty. Rob Davis told me he would either buy or help me sell my personal domains. That was a total lie. The evidence is empirical. His motive was to dig for personal information to use against me. He contacted me as a domain buyer under false pretense, I’m sure. Wasted my time among other things.
Basically, he didn’t like a blog post I made questing the integrity of EPIK. I posted source material indicating that around 40,000 .TOP domains were registered at EPIK.COM in the span of a few days. .TOP domains made up a large potions of their total registrations. I think it was 70,000 in total.
During a few days, over 40k .TOP domains were registered at EPIK. This is while they were listed for ~$40 each. I believe at best he was stuffing his numbers. At worst, he was laundering money. I didn’t hesitate to propose these ideas on my blog. Millions of dollars worth of .TOP domains were registered at EPIK, $40 each, when most every other place sold them for $1-2 each…And so what?
Well, as this was happening, Rob, the CEO was insisting on forums things as ‘if one person gets a deal, everyone does’ – in regard to discounts. He was explicitly stating that if there was some sale at all, the sale would be extended to everyone. He explicitly stated that no one would be getting such a private deal, during the exact time the registrations were happening!
He often promoted himself on these dignified business theories. He often lashed out against doxing and such. But oh, the pot did call the kettle black.
When I wouldn’t divulge all the info personal requested, something like, ‘neverminded, I already know who you are’, was admitted. Which meant, that as a customer, that he knew my info, and would use it to push his forth coming threats…
Everything I state can be proven in the text messages. Anyone could see for themselves the true motives and reckless business, deceptions and threats that were employed.
So, I felt Rob was lying about things. And he needed to be called out. He sent his thug to threaten me. These threats included filing police reports, which he said would result ‘preventing me anywhere near schools’…And he said other things similar. These obviously were empty and delusional threats, as nothing I wrote had anything to do with ‘being around a school’. You should know what he was trying to do. I feel like, if things escalated, he would lie, and try to make me out to be a pedophile or something. As there is not legitimate evidence to inflict such a thing on me otherwise. It actually creeped me out.
I wonder, why all this, and not just sue me? I asked him to do it! He really liked threatening to tell “MY Whole community” about me. IE; DOXING Really? If you know Rob, you would know what he says about this kind of thing. The man is a hypocrite to say the least.
So while they contacted me out of the blue, literally pretending to be a godly helpful buyer, he had other intentions. Our long conversation which I thought was under the pretense of business was, as he told me ‘spread about the entire Epik office’ where everyone ‘laughed at me’. Mission accomplished?
This could be the most deceitful, reckless and hypocritical company in the country. I dislike them to say the least. Beware, do no trust, IMO.
Lol funniest thing I’ve read in a while, big shocker, people in domaining aren’t straight shooters or registrars aren’t saints. Top level domaining is a very dirty business which I’ve seen first hand and the murky world of domain brokering is beyond ridiculous, I’ve personally hired professional domain brokers before for a domain name related to a corporate I worked in later to find alternatives being registered to that domain name days later under domain privacy and naturally unable to prove who was at fault.
Not at all shocked that Rob Monster was playing a sly game either, I think his surname describes him handsomely.
Thankfully I don’t use Epik for anything and don’t even login to namepros anymore.
Drew Platt says
Could you share with us the names of the domain brokers?
We can be cautious!!!