What has Glenn Beck done?

by scotslawstudent

He lodged a complaint with the WIPO under the UDRP against a domain name owner he said was violating his trademark (see what I did there). An American individual registered a domain name which linked his name with various criminal acts — however the site didn’t accuse him of doing the acts, they just wanted to know why he won’t come out and publicly deny the serious allegations, a satirical reference to Beck’s own interviewing style — Beck promptly took legal advice and this led to the WIPO hearing. The extra-legal Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy is not perfect, it’s been widely criticised from the very outset for issues of accountability and bias not least in that the initial source of the policy is the World Intellectual Property Organisation and asking the WIPO how you should deal with copyright disputes between trademark owners and domain name owners is a little bit like asking the KKK how you should deal with disputes between white people and black people.

On the other hand, this dispute is quite a reassuring note that in the case of fairly clear situations the process does work. The UDRP deals with trademark violation and this is not a trademark violation so the action can’t succeed and that’s what’s been decided, although on a different ground because the domain name was held to be similar enough to be confusing.

It’s the specific details of the dispute which are quite entertaining. The reason behind the registrant registering the specific domain name he did is because it’s an Internet meme. It’s not the registrant making false allegations of felonies by Glenn Beck, he’s just copying a joke that’s on FARK. The third pillar of the test requires the trademark owner to prove bad faith so this is a huge deal. The thing is that Internet memes are elements from a (primarily American) subculture and it’s impossible to assume that any particular WIPO panel sitting in Geneva will know a lolcat from a rickroll. This means that the respondent’s submission needed to include a potted history of the Internet meme in between naturally quite dry analysis of relevant precedent and procedural (as opposed to legal) argument. It’s inordinately awesome to read about Leroy Jenkins on letter headed paper.

Perhaps most hearteningly of all is the statement released by the registrant after the decision was made – in the statement he gives Beck control of the domain (despite the panel ruling in the registrant’s favour) and says that the only reason he even disputed the point was to defend the American Constitution’s protections of free speech from Beck. It’s a surprisingly powerful and elegant declaration of patriotism for a dispute that came out of an Internet in-joke.

Arstechnica have a good, factually oriented review of the dispute that’s worth a read.