06|17|2008 02:11 am EDT
Domain Name News was forwarded a copy of a 2007 Federal Court decision that seems to be a wake up call to after-market domain name buyers to be wary of who they are buying domain names from. The California Federal Court decision should make it crystal clear to would-be domain name purchasers that true ownership of a domain name is not based on what is in the whois records.
The courts decision, which can be seen in entirety here, notes that a domain name whois record is not equivalent to title of ownership. The court makes no mention of what would be equivalent for a domain name, but it can be assumed that proof of purchase or contractual records with the registry would suffice. The judgement states :
“Defendants’ arguments rest on changes to the Whois records and the registration contact information for the domain name. Such records, however, are not the equivalent of statutorily-created title systems. They are privately maintained systems for providing contact information and keeping records for domain names.
and then later:
Changes to the registration information do not constitute a transfer of ownership”
In the decision, domainer Greg Ricks was stripped of the domain name Express.com . According to court documents the domain name whois record was changed slightly in 2004. Ricks claims he purchased the domain name through Escrow.com for $150,000. He claims there was no reason to doubt that he was dealing with anyone other than the owner of the domain. Court documents have found that the money ended up in a bank account in Lithuania. It’s safe to assume that the domain name was hijacked from Express Media Group and then sold to Ricks by a third party. Ricks was found guilty of conversion and ordered to transfer the domain name to Express Media Group.
The Internet Library comments by attorney Martin Samson on the case provide some valuable insight to the decision. It is also interesting to note in Samson’s article that he mentions “The Ninth Circuit has held that a domain name is property capable of being converted.”