Country music star wins personal name case

In TT Merchandising Inc v Alberta Hot Rods, award-winning country music star Travis Tritt has prevailed in his Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy case against the well-known celebrity names cybersquatter Alberta Hot Rods.

Alberta Hot Rods registered 'TravisTritt.com' in 1996 and used the domain name to link to its Celebrity1000.com website, which provides information about famous entertainers and contains commercial advertisements.

Although Alberta Hot Rods prevailed in an early UDRP case involving its registration of 'BruceSpringsteen.com', National Arbitration Forum (NAF) and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) panels have since found that the company has registered celebrity domain names in bad faith, and have granted common law trademark rights in celebrity names, even in cases where there is no federally registered trademark (see eg, Kevin Spacey v Alberta Hot Rods). NAF panellist Carolyn M Johnson stated:

"A complainant need not have a registered trademark in order to raise a claim against a domain name; a domain name dispute may properly be filed when one demonstrates an interest in a mark to which the disputed domain name is confusingly similar or identical."

Thus, Johnson found that Tritt possesses common law trademark rights in his name. As evidence of his common law rights, Johnson pointed to Tritt's 15 years in the country music business and multi-platinum albums. Johnson also found that Alberta Hot Rods was capitalizing on Tritt's well-known name and hard-earned goodwill. She concluded that Alberta Hot Rods' linking of 'TravisTritt.com' to its celebrity website constituted bad faith.

This decision provides further strong precedent against the unauthorized use of celebrity domain names.

For discussion of a similar outcome, see NBA star scores in celebrity cybersquatting case.

James L Bikoff and Patrick L Jones, Silverberg Goldman & Bikoff, Washington DC (with the assistance of Steven P Shaw, Georgetown University Law Center)

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