WIPO

 

WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center

 

ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION

The E.W. Scripps Company v. Sinologic Industries

Case No. D2003-0447

 

1. The Parties

The Complainant is The E.W. Scripps Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, United States of America, represented by Baker & Hostetler, LLP of Columbus, Ohio, United States of America.

The Respondent is Sinologic Industries of Delta, British Columbia, Canada.

 

2. The Domain Name and Registrar

The disputed domain name <commercialappeal.com> ("the Domain Name") is registered with Dotster.com ("the Registrar").

 

3. Procedural History

The Complaint was filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the "Center") in electronic form on June 11, 2003, and in hard copy on June 13, 2003. The Center transmitted its standard request for verification to the Registrar on June 11, 2003. The Registrar duly confirmed the same day that it had received a copy of the Complaint, that it was the Registrar, that the Respondent was the registrant, that the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the "Policy") applied, that the Domain Name was locked, that the language of the registration agreement was English, and that the registration agreement included a submission to the jurisdiction of the courts at the location of the Registrar. The Center verified on June 16, 2003, that the Complaint satisfied the formal requirements of the Policy, the Rules for Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the "Rules"), and the WIPO Supplemental Rules for Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the "Supplemental Rules").

The Center emailed the Complaint to the Respondent on June 17, 2003, but did not retain a record of dispatch of the hard copy on that date. For the avoidance of doubt, the Complaint was sent again to the Respondent by hard copy on June 19, 2003. In accordance with the Rules, paragraphs 2(a) and 4(a), formal notification was effective and the proceedings commenced on June 19, 2003, at the latest. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5(a), the due date for Response was July 9, 2003. The Response was filed with the Center in electronic form on June 23, 2003, and in hard copy on June 24, 2003. The Center appointed Jonathan Turner as the sole panelist in this matter on June 27, 2003. The Panel has submitted the Statement of Acceptance and Declaration of Impartiality and Independence, as required by the Center to ensure compliance with the Rules, paragraph 7.

Having reviewed the file, the Panel is satisfied that the Complaint complied with applicable formal requirements, was duly notified to the Respondent and has been submitted to a properly appointed Panel in accordance with the Policy, the Rules and the Supplemental Rules.

By an email of June 27, 2003, the Complainant requested the Panel to consider a Reply to the Response "to address new facts presented by the Respondent as well as misstatements made by the Respondent in its Response." By its Procedural Order No. 1 of June 30, 2003, the Panel ruled that it would not consider the Complainantís Reply and stated that it would give its reasons in its Decision on the case.

Under the Policy and the Rules, parties have no right to submit additional arguments or evidence. However, the Panel may, in its sole discretion, request further statements or documents from the parties under paragraph 10 of the Rules; and a partyís request may be regarded as an invitation to the Panel to exercise this discretion.

The principles which should be applied in exercising this discretion have been considered in numerous cases decided under the Policy and Rules; see e.g. the decisions of WIPO Panels in WIPO Case Nos. D2000-0166 <plazahotel.com>, D2000-1151 <goldline.com>, D2000-1571 <tdwatergouse.com> et al., D2000-0270 <htmlease.com> and, recently, D2003-0229 <pepsibabies.com> et al. The principles adopted and confirmed in these decisions are that additional evidence or submissions should only be admitted in exceptional circumstances, such as where the party could not reasonably have known the existence or relevance of the further material when it made its primary submission; that if further material is admitted, it should be limited so as to minimise prejudice to the other party or the procedure; and that the reasons why the Panel is invited to consider the further material should, so far as practicable, be set out separately from the material itself.

These principles are based on the purpose of the Policy and Rules of providing an expeditious and relatively inexpensive procedure for determining a certain type of domain name dispute, in which each party is entitled to make just one submission. One of the matters which the Panel has to bear in mind is that the admission of a further submission from one party may lead the other party to submit a further document in reply, which may lead to a further submission by the first party, and so on, thereby compromising the procedural economy sought to be established by the Policy and the Rules.

Applying these principles to the present case, the Panel noted the Complainantís statement in its covering email that the Reply was submitted to address new facts and misstatements presented by the Respondent. However, this statement did not sufficiently identify the alleged new facts and misstatements to satisfy the Panel that they were indeed new facts or misstatements which required a reply. Furthermore, the Response did not appear to the Panel to contain any significant points which could not reasonably have been anticipated by the Complainant. In particular, the Complainant could and did anticipate that the Respondent would rely on the use made of the Domain Name since it was registered in 1999, and the Complainantís failure to take further action in respect of such use. In all the circumstances, the Panel was not satisfied that sufficient grounds had been made out to justify the exercise of its discretion under paragraph 10 of the Rules to consider the proposed Reply.

 

4. Factual Background

The Complainant owns and publishes "The Commercial Appeal" a newspaper based in Memphis, Tennessee, USA. The newspaper was founded in 1841, under the name "The Appeal" and changed its name to "The Commercial Appeal" in 1894. It has 235,600 subscribers and is also published online at "www.gomemphis.com". It is the largest circulation newspaper in the Mid-South region of the USA.

The Domain Name was registered on April 14, 1999. It was originally used in 1999, to advertise a variety of commercial sites of interest to persons in Mississippi and Tennessee, including the Tupelo Daily Journal. A clear and prominent disclaimer of any connection with the Complainant was included in 1999, possibly following complaint by Complainant.

The Domain Name is now being used by the Respondent for a site containing links to specific news stories available on the Internet, identified by their headlines. These are set out in sections, starting with one headed "Offbeat News", a second headed "Breaking News", and a third headed "Mississippi News" containing links to stories in Mississippi newspapers. Until recently, the "Mississippi News" section was preceded by a similar section headed "Memphis News", containing links to news stories on the Complainantís website and in a few cases websites of other newspapers. The "Memphis News" section was removed following the Complainantís cease and desist letter. A modest disclaimer, reading "Not associated with The Commercial Appeal Newspaper" in plain 12 point type, is included at the foot of the lengthy home page which runs to over four pages when printed.

 

5. Partiesí Contentions

A. Complainant

The Complainant states that the Domain Name is identical or confusingly similar to its unregistered trade mark THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL which has become well-known as a result of its longstanding use; that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the Domain Name; and that it was registered by the Respondent and is being used in bad faith, in particular by exploiting the Complainantís name to promote a competitive service. Anticipating criticism of its delay in pursuing a complaint in respect of the Domain Name since it was registered in 1999, the Complainant alleges that the Domain Name was originally registered by a different person and used in a less egregious manner. The Complainant requests that the Domain Name be transferred to it.

B. Respondent

The Respondent contends that "Commercial Appeal" is a generic term in which the Complainant does not have trade mark rights; that the Respondent has rights and legitimate interests in respect of the Domain Name by virtue of having used it for a website for almost 4 years; and that the Respondent has acted in good faith, as shown by its willingness to accommodate the Complainant by removing links to the Complainantís website and adding disclaimers in response to complaints in 1999, and 2003. The Respondent requests that the Complaint be denied.

 

6. Discussion and Findings

In accordance with paragraph 4 of the Policy, the Complainant must prove:

A. that the Domain Name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the Complainant has rights;
B. that the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the Domain Name; and
C. that the Domain Name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.

Each of these requirements will be considered in turn.

A. Identical or Confusingly Similar to Mark in which Complainant has Rights

It is well established that a Complainant may rely on rights in unregistered marks in establishing the first requirement, see e.g. the decisions of WIPO Panels in WIPO Case Nos. D2000-0210 <juliaroberts.com> and D2000-0235 <jeanettewinterson.com/org/net>. However the Complainant must show that it actually has such rights under some legal system: see the decision of the WIPO Panel in WIPO Case No. D2001-0006 <pointmail.com>. Furthermore, under paragraph 15(a) of the Rules, the Panel shall decide a Complaint on the basis of any rules and principles of law that it deems applicable. In this case, the Complainant is based in Memphis, Tennessee and serves areas of Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. The Panel considers that in the circumstances of this case it is sufficient for the Complainant to establish rights in the relevant mark under Tennessee State Law or US Federal Law.

The Panel finds that, under Tennessee State Law and US Federal Law, a person cannot acquire rights in a mark which is generic, but can acquire rights in a mark which is descriptive by showing secondary meaning: see e.g. Park ní Fly v. Dollar Park & Fly 469 US 189 (1985), Two Pesos v. Taco Cabana 505 US 763 (1992), Nartron Corp v. STMicroelectronics Inc., 2002 FED App. 0341P (CA6).

The Panel considers that "The Commercial Appeal" is not generic in relation to newspapers and doubts that it is even descriptive. "Commercial" on its own might be descriptive of a type of newspaper, but "The Commercial Appeal" as a whole is not. However, even if it is descriptive, the Panel has no doubt that it has acquired a secondary meaning after its use for over 100 years as the title of a significant local newspaper. The Panel is therefore satisfied that the Complainant has trade mark rights in the name "The Commercial Appeal".

The Panel has no doubt that the Domain Name is identical or confusingly similar to this mark, from which it differs only in the absence of the definite article and the presence of the gTLD suffix. Indeed, this point is not disputed in the Response. The Panel accordingly concludes that the first requirement is satisfied.

B. Rights or Legitimate Interests

Paragraph 4(c)(i) of the Policy specifies that a respondentís rights or legitimate interests in a domain name are demonstrated by the respondentís use of the domain name in connection with a bona fide offering of goods or services before any notice of the dispute. In this case, it is not clear whether the complaint in 1999, may be regarded as notice of the dispute. However, in the absence of any evidence of the nature of the complaint made in 1999, the Panel will assume in the Respondentís favour that notice of the dispute was not given prior to the Complainantís cease and desist letter in 2003.

There are also conflicting contentions as to whether the Respondent was the original registrant and user of the Domain Name (as the Respondent maintains) or only recently acquired it (as the Complainant alleges). In the absence of any documentary evidence confirming the position either way, and bearing in mind that the overall burden of proof rests on the Complainant in accordance with paragraph 4(a)(ii) of the Policy, the Panel will assume that the Respondent was the original registrant and thus entitled to rely on the use made of the Domain Name since then.

It remains to consider whether the use made of the Domain Name prior to the 2003 cease and desist letter was in connection with a bona fide offering of goods or services. The Complainant has provided screenshots of the records held by "www.web.archive.org" of the home page at the Domain Name on October 11, 1999, and February 2, 2001. Although the Respondent disputes the accuracy of these records, they are the only evidence of the use made of the Domain Name between 1999 and 2003. On the balance of probabilities, the Panel holds that they are accurate records of the home page accessed by the Domain Name on those dates. The relevance of further screenshots of records held by "www.web.archive.org" of pages at the address "www.futuresouth.com", also exhibited by the Complainant, is not clear to the Panel, and these pages have been disregarded.

On October 11, 1999, the page advertised a website "www.TupeloBusiness.com" accompanied by a link with the words "Tupelo Events and Businesses" and "Daily Journal Online" accompanied by a link with the words "Tupelo Daily Journal Newspaper". It went on to say "If you know of another Appealing Commercial Site of interest to Mississippi & Tennessee let us know and we would be glad to add it to our list. Our goal is to bring Commercially Apealing [sic] sites together in one convenient location."

The page was thus directed to the very geographic area in which the Complainantís newspaper was well-known. It advertised another newspaper in the vicinity and solicited advertisements for other commercial sites of interest to Mississippi and Tennessee. Advertising local businesses is, of course, an activity typical of a local newspaper. Furthermore, the use of the words "Appealing Commercial" appears to have been contrived to fit the Domain Name.

The page at February 2, 2001, had no content other than the name "Commercialappeal.com" and three blank rectangles.

On the balance of probabilities, the Panel considers that the use made of the Domain Name prior to 2003, was not a bona fide offering of goods or services, but rather was an attempt to exploit the reputation of the Complainantís newspaper by using a Domain Name virtually identical to its title in order to promote a competing service and/or to provoke the Complainant into paying for the Domain Name.

The Panel therefore concludes that the Respondent has not demonstrated that it has rights or legitimate interests in respect of the Domain Name by virtue of bona fide offering of goods or services under paragraph 4c(i) of the Policy. The Panel sees no other basis for the Respondent having rights or legitimate in respect of the Domain and accordingly finds in favour of the Complainant on this second requirement of the Policy.

C. Registered and Used in Bad Faith

It is clear that the third requirement of a successful complaint is only satisfied if the Domain Name both has been registered and is being used in bad faith, although use in bad faith may be evidence of registration in bad faith: see the decisions of WIPO Panels in WIPO Case Nos. D1999-0001 <worldwidewrestlingfederation.com>, D2000-0003 <telstra.org> and D2000-0235 <jeanettewinterson.com/org/net>.

On the other hand, it is not clear what constitutes "registration" for the purpose of this requirement. It appears from paragraph 4(b)(i) of the Policy that acquisition of a domain name for the purpose of sale at a profit may be sufficient to establish bad faith, from which it seems to follow that "registration" is not confined to the initial registration of the domain name. It is possible that the term is confined to initial registration or transfer, but it seems illogical to exclude renewal or even maintenance of the registration if these are effected in bad faith. Furthermore, the considerations in paragraphs 170-177 of the Final Report of the WIPO Internet Domain Name Process (on which the Policy and, in particular, its definition of bad faith were based) apply to registrations maintained and used in bad faith, whether or not they were initially made in bad faith.

Against this background, this Panel considers that the term "registered" in paragraph 4(a)(iii) of the Policy should be interpreted as referring to placing or maintaining a domain name on the register. It may be noted that this view is similar to that reached by the UK House of Lords in the GE Trade Mark case [1973] RPC 297 in relation to the meaning of "register" in a similar context in UK trade mark legislation.

On this approach, it is necessary to consider only whether the recent use of the Domain Name and the maintenance of its registration for the purpose of this use have been in bad faith. In the view of the Panel, the recent use of the Domain Name for a website providing links to news stories, in particular relating to Memphis and Mississippi is obviously likely to mislead Internet users into believing that the site is connected with the Complainantís newspaper. The modest disclaimer at the very end of the lengthy page is most unlikely to dispel confusion; indeed, the nature of this disclaimer is itself an indication of the Respondentís intent to cause confusion. On the balance of probabilities, the Panel considers that the Respondent intends to cause confusion for the purpose of disrupting the Complainantís business (cf. paragraph 4(b)(iii) of the Policy) or attracting Internet users to the Respondentís website for commercial gain (cf. paragraph 4(b)(iv) of the Policy). Accordingly, if "registered" refers to the maintenance of the registration, the Panel is satisfied that the Domain Name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.

(The very recent removal of the "Memphis" section following the Complainantís cease and desist letter cannot affect the position. A Respondent cannot avoid the Policy by ceasing part of the objectionable use on being challenged. In any case, the use of the Domain Name is still liable to mislead, particularly as the website still contains a prominent section on Mississippi news.)

If, on the other hand, "registered" refers only to the initial registration, it is necessary to consider whether this was also done in bad faith. As noted above, the Panel considers that the initial use made of the Domain Name was likewise an attempt to exploit the reputation of the Complainantís newspaper to promote a competing service and/or to provoke the Complainant into paying for the Domain Name. The Panel infers that the registration was initially made for this purpose and thus in bad faith.

Accordingly the Panel concludes that, whichever meaning is given to the word "registered", the Domain Name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.

This conclusion is not affected by the Complainantís long delay in pursuing a complaint in relation to the Domain Name. If the requirements of a valid complaint under the Policy are established, the Policy does not provide any defence of laches. This accords with the basic objective of the Policy of providing an expeditious and relatively inexpensive procedure for the determination of disputes relating to egregious misuse of domain names. The availability of defences such as laches could result in significant delay and expense. Although a Panel is required by paragraph 15(a) of the Rules to decide the dispute in accordance with any rules and principles of law that it deems applicable, this would not justify the adoption of a substantive defence not provided in the Policy and running counter to its objectives. If a respondent considers that the bringing of the complaint was inequitable because of delay, it can submit the matter to a court of competent jurisdiction.

Finally, there is no reason to deny the Complainant the remedy of transfer of the Domain Name.

 

7. Decision

For all the foregoing reasons, in accordance with paragraphs 4(i) of the Policy and 15 of the Rules, the Panel orders that the Domain Name, <commercialappeal.com>, be transferred to the Complainant.

 


 

Jonathan Turner
Sole Panelist

Dated: July 1, 2003