Williams sisters, Kidman win cybersquatting cases

Williams sisters, Kidman win cybersquatting cases

Actress Nicole Kidman and the Williams tennis sisters Venus and Serena have won their cases to evict cybersquatters from contested domain names, arbitrators ruled on Monday.

The latest celebrities to be awarded contested domain names, they join Hollywood's top actress Julia Roberts, singer Madonna, French stars Isabelle Adjani and Alain Delon, and the estate of the American rock legend Jimi Hendrix.

All have won their complaints at the United Nations agency which protects trademarks and patents, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

Cybersquatting - often done by people who register famous names as domains in the hope of making a quick profit - is seen as the hottest online issue among celebrities, experts say.

This month, American rock star Bruce Springsteen is also due to receive the verdict in a case he filed at the Geneva-based WIPO, whose network of independent arbitrators issue rulings.

Venus and Serena, fresh from completing a Grand Slam of doubles crowns by winning at the Australian Open 10 days ago, won back the top-level domain names , and , according to the decision issued by WIPO on Monday.

Australian Kidman, married to superstar Tom Cruise with whom she starred in "Eyes Wide Shut", won her case against American John Zuccarini who had registered and , but failed to respond to the complaint, according to the separate decision by three WIPO arbitrators.

In both cases, the complainants proved that the domain names were "identical or confusingly similar" to a trademark, that the defendant had "no rights or legitimate interests" and that the domain name had been registered and was being used in bad faith.


Eileen White Byrne, of Dublin, Ireland, who registered the three Williams domain names last July and September, offered to sell the sisters back the .com site for $1 million in November, according to the decision by arbitrator Tony Willoughby.

Within days, the sisters filed a complaint pointing "to their fame and to the importance to them professionally of their names", according to the five-page decision.

"It is important to them to be able to craft their images by carefully selecting the companies with which they associate and whose products/services they endorse, the publications to which they grant interviews, the television shows on which they appear and the tennis events in which they participate," it added.

"They assert that professional athletes use their own names as domain names for such things as Internet fan club sites, where they generate income from membership and product sales and advertising," it added.

Venus, who made her professional debut in 1993, and Serena, who made hers in 1995, said they had applied for U.S. federal trademark registrations of their names in January and August 2000. They also asserted that their "common law" rights had been violated, according to the decision.

Byrne said she had a "right and legitimate interest" in the domain names as she intended to set up a General Sports Consultancy Website with links to some other websites of her own, according to the decision.

"In business, people do try and buy goods or services for any financial gain...I will not apologise to anyone for using my initiative or common-sense or any other qualifications I have for the purpose of commercial or financial gain," she wrote.

More than 2,000 cases have been filed since December 1999 when WIPO's arbitration centre began receiving cybersquatting cases. Of the roughly 1,300 cases completed, about 80 percent have ordered transfers of sites, a spokeswoman said.

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