Telecom service provider Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) has won the battle over the ownership of vsnlinternet.com, a domain name registered by a cybersquatter, whose identity was hidden by Whois IDentity Shield, Vancouver, Canada.
The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Arbitration and Mediation Center has delivered the verdict three months after VSNL filed the complaint in early April.
Whois database contains contact details of an individual or a company in whose name a domain name is registered, leaving them exposed to 'spam'. Whois Identity Shield service, which hides registrant's details from public, was started mainly to help registrant avoid receiving 'spam'.
During the course of arbitration proceedings in the VSNL case, Nameview Inc, the registrar of the domain name, revealed that the domain was registered in the name of "Videsh Sanchar Bhavan, Bangla Saheb Road, New Delhi", the actual address of the VSNL office in Delhi. This suggested as if VSNL was the owner of the domain name while in reality it held no such control over the domain. The cybersquatter had mirrored the original address in the registrar's record, making it impossible for anyone to locate the actual registrant.
No response was submitted by the respondents. The panel ordered the transfer of domain name to VSNL after finding that the domain name was registered and used in bad faith by the respondent.
The fallout of the verdict is that a petition can now be maintained against the identity shield service provider. "Usually you wouldn't know who to sue, when a cybersquatter infringes upon your trademark rights and hides behind Whois IDentity Shield. But in this case, we made Whois Shield the party. So the burden shifted to Whois Shield," said Pravin Anand, IP attorney who represented VSNL in this case.
Making Whois Shield the party also protects one from cyber-flight, he added. Cyber-flight means change of ownership of a domain name with intent to escape a current dispute.
Several registrants have been hiding behind Whois shield to squat on domain names. In a report on cybersquatting, published in March, WIPO noted: "Increasingly, service providers are offering Whois privacy services, allowing domain name registrations to be made through a proxy registrant, which is often a registrar-related entity."
In 2006, the number of cyber squatting disputes filed with WIPO went up by 25 per cent as compared to 2005.