Facebook has wrestled control of the web address face-book.com away from an Isle of Man-based firm that operates it as a revenue-raising link dump.
Manx outfit YOLAPT registered the domain on 3 October 2004, several months after Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg launched thefacebook.com, but while it was still only available to a few US colleges.
In a complaint to the World Intellectual Property Oragnisation (WIPO), one of several groups that implements ICANN's rules on domain disputes, Facebook argued face-book.com was confusingly similar to its own address, facebook.com. Its lawyers said YOLAPT had registered the name and was using it in bad faith by hosting links to advertising that exploit Facebook's brand.
For now, YOLAPT's site is still live at the address, displaying adverts for "Russian brides", which we didn't think was a particular marketing thrust for Facebook. Other links like "Find friend" and "People search" could be construed as sneaky, however. The Manx company did not respond to the challenge.
WIPO panelist Brigitte Joppich found in Facebook's favour last week. She wrote: "The respondent is in all likelihood trying to divert traffic intended for the complainant’s website to its own for the purpose of earning click-through-revenues from Internet users searching for the complainant's website."
Facebook.com cost Zuckerberg and his backers $200,000 in 2005. The WIPO dispute resolution service is subject to a $1,500 up-front fee, which seems like a bargain really.
German attorney Joppich did note that Facebook's case was "towards the weaker end of the spectrum" because it had failed to provide evidence of how famous it is. Funnily enough, unlike its meteoric rise into the UK national consciousness, Facebook has struggled for traction in Germany, where according to comScore it doesn't even make the social networking top 10.
Similar disputes over .co.uk domains are resolved by not-for-profit firm Nominet. Legal director Emily Taylor commented: "This [link dumping] is a legitimate activity as long as nobody's rights are infringed. You have to look at the situation of each individual case."
The ICANN process was established in 1999 and has not been updated since, which Taylor said can cause problems in cases like Facebook's because link dumping is a "newish" activity.
The WIPO decision on Facebook is here. ®