November 8, 2011
Musician and pop culture icon Stefani Germanotta – better known to her fans as “Lady Gaga” – has actively protected her ‘distinctive’ brand since entering the national scene. For example, she has required that photojournalists at her concerts assign all copyrights in their photographs to her, and recently filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against a company attempting to register the marks “Lady Gaga” and “Lady Gaga LG.” A few weeks ago, however, Lady Gaga learned that she did not have rights in the domain name “ladygaga.org.” In August, Lady Gaga filed a Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (“UDRP”) complaint with the National Arbitration Forum (“NAF”) alleging that the domain violated her trademark rights and was intentionally registered in bad faith in order to capitalize on her fame. Unfortunately for Lady Gaga, the NAF panel disagreed, finding that since the website hosted at ladygaga.org is a completely non-commercial fansite that disclaims any association with the musician, Lady Gaga had failed to show that the owner did not have a legitimate interest or right in the domain. Lady Gaga’s legal team will undoubtedly be monitoring the site from this point forward, waiting for the day it involves or links to some commercial activity. Interestingly, the owner of the domain name, listed as “oranges arecool XD,” owns more than 2,000 domain names, including many related to celebrities (link). Take-Home Message While famous entities such as celebrities, companies, and universities usually have rights in domain names that attempt to take advantage of their fame, completely non-commercial “fansites” can be an exception. To regain these domain names, the entity may have to consider alternatives to the UDRP process or litigation, such as offering to purchase the domain outright from the owner.