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Having a unique domain name is an essential part of running an online business, as it is the major placeholder for your business’ digital presence. So, it can be challenging when you try to register your domain name and discover someone else is already using it. Sometimes business competitors may register a domain name to interfere with your trade. In other instances, third parties known as ‘cybersquatters’ may register a domain name with the intention of selling it to other businesses at a profit. If you have the right to use that domain and the other party is using it in bad faith, then you may exercise your legal rights to resolve the issue. This article outlines what legal avenues you have if you want to resolve a domain name dispute in New Zealand.

How Do Domain Names Work?

Domain names are the unique website URL that people look up to find your business. Globally, .com domain names are the most common domain suffixes. Additionally, each country has its own respective domain format, such as NZ domain names ending in .nz.

For example, https://legalvision.co.nz/ is a domain name to access LegalVision’s NZ website.

If you want your website domain to end in .nz, you have to register it with a Registrar approved by the NZ Domain Name Commission (DNC). Domain names are registered based on a first come first served basis. As long as you are operating the domain name in good faith and keep renewing it, you can own it for as long as you like. The person who registers the domain name is known as the ‘registrant’. Any individual over the age of 18 or constituted organisation can register a domain name in NZ. 

The DNC does not deal with disputes for .com domains or disputes about the website’s content.

What Can I Do When I Have a Domain Name Dispute?

You have two options to open a dispute if you realise that:

  • someone has already registered the domain name that you have the rights to; and 
  • they have done so in bad faith. 

You can:

  • file a complaint using the dispute resolution service (DRS) for your respective domain; or
  • bring an action against the registrant in court.

Which DRS you use will depend on which domain suffix you use. If your domain name ends in .com, you will use the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), which is a global resolution process. If you have a .nz domain name, you will use the NZ’s DRC Dispute Resolution Service. You will likely be using a .nz domain if your business operates in NZ for solely NZ customers.

In most cases, filing a complaint through your domain’s relevant DRS is your first option. You can start the beginning of this process online, for free. 

If going through your relevant DRS does not work, taking legal proceedings against the registrant in court is always an option as well. This can be time-consuming and costly. However, you can get different remedies through the court, such as an:

  • order requiring the registrant to pay you monetary compensation; or
  • injunction, which would prevent the other party from continuing to be the registrant of the domain.

The option you should choose to take as a first step will depend on the circumstances of your dispute.

Using the DRS for a Domain Name Dispute in NZ

If you decide to use the DRS for your .nz domain name, you must prove two things as a complainant. This includes proving:

  • you have the rights to that domain name; and
  • the current registrant has carried out an unfair registration, meaning that they have an unfair advantage in holding it or it is detrimental to you.

You can find out who is the current registrant of your domain name by doing a WHOIS search on the DNC website. To start, you can: 

  • make a written submission using forms on the website; and 
  • submit your evidence proving your rights. 

It is crucial to make sure you include all relevant evidence, such as:

  • trademark rights and who is the correct trademark owner;
  • details from your registration with the Companies Office;
  • advertising and promotional materials;
  • newspaper articles about your business; or
  • sponsors and community references to your business.

The registrant then has a chance to respond. If they do, the DNC provides a mediator for negotiating the dispute. If you come to an agreement, the mediator drafts up a written, binding agreement. The DNC does not charge you for this process.

If the registrant does not respond for mediation, the next step is for a DNC Expert to look over your complaint. This comes with a $2000 fee (+GST).

Depending on the circumstances, they may make a decision based solely on your evidence, if the registrant does not supply any of their own. The DRS process may end in any number of actions to the domain name, including:

  • cancelation;
  • transfer of the domain;
  • suspension; or
  • amending the domain.

This will depend on which option the DNC thinks will lead to the fairest outcome for both parties. Unlike courts, they cannot award monetary damages or order an injunction.

Key Takeaways

If you have a domain name dispute in NZ, you can deal with it by bringing an action in court or filing a complaint under the NZ Domain Name Commission’s Dispute Resolution Process (DRS). If you just want the registrant to stop using the domain name, you can start with the DRS, which is often a cheaper and more practical option. But if you want financial compensation or the issue is more complicated, then going to court may be more suitable. If you would like help preparing your domain name dispute, contact LegalVision’s New Zealand IT lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

FAQs

What is a domain name?

A domain name is the website URL that people type in to find your website. It is the address for your business online and one of the main ways people can find you on the internet. You can register a domain name with an approved registrant.

How can I solve a domain name dispute?

You can either file a complaint using your domain’s relevant dispute resolution process or bring an action to the court. For NZ domains like .co.nz, you would use the dispute resolution process run by the NZ Domain Name Commission.

What causes domain name disputes?

Domain name disputes can happen for a variety of reasons. Some common reasons are businesses registering domain names relevant to one one of their competitors, or cybersquatters registering domain names for the purpose of selling them back to businesses at high prices.

Who owns a domain name?

The person who registered the domain name is the owner. You can find this out by conducting a WHOIS search on the Domain Name Commission’s website.

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