British meat commission gets burned in UDRP decision

International

In Meat and Livestock Commission v Pearce, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) panellist Jonathan Turner has refused to order the transfer of 'BritishMeat.com' and 'BritishMeat.org' to the complainant - the owner of a logo mark featuring the words 'British meat'. Turner held that (i) 'British meat' is the normal term to describe meat produced in Britain, and (ii) the registrant's longstanding use of the domain names for criticism purposes constituted a legitimate non-commercial use.

The UK Meat and Livestock Commission filed a Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) complaint with WIPO against David Pearce, an individual, following his registration and use of 'BritishMeat.com' and 'BritishMeat.org'.

The commission is a public body funded by statutory levies on British livestock farmers and meat processors, and acts to promote and advertise their interests. It also advises public authorities and advertises the sale of British meat. Since 1991 the commission has used a logo containing the words 'British meat' and it obtained a UK trademark registration for the logo in 1999. Pearce registered 'BritishMeat.com' and 'BritishMeat.org' in March 1997 and July 1998 respectively for use in connection with a website critical of the meat industry and its practices.

In its complaint, the commission argued that the domain names were registered for the purpose of diverting internet users from the commission's official British meat website found at 'BritishMeat.co.uk', and that the material available on Pearce's site was misleading and unfair. Pearce responded to the complaint, contending that his organization had campaigned against British meat industry practices for over 20 years and has provided information to the public on his websites for six years. Pearce also stated that he had a legitimate interest in using the "generic and descriptive term 'British meat' to discuss the ethics of British meat production, and that the complainant is not entitled to buy up the relevant parts of the English language from the namespace in a bid to pre-empt criticism".

Turner noted that Pearce had obtained the domain names prior to the registration of the commission's logo mark but that the UDRP "does not require that the complainant's right predate the original registration or use of which complaint is made". Turner went on to find that the commission had not satisfied the first requirement of the UDRP - that the domain names were confusingly similar to any marks in which the complainant has rights. He stated that "given that 'British meat' is the normal and natural term to describe meat produced in Britain, the panel is not satisfied that the domain names would be regarded by internet users as indicating a website of the complainant".

Turner also found that Pearce's longstanding use of the domain names for criticism purposes constituted a legitimate non-commercial use.

James L Bikoff and Patrick L Jones, Silverberg Goldman & Bikoff, Washington DC

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