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Court Rules on Playboy Domain Name Dispute

IPEC dismisses Playboy domain name claim

Court Rules on Playboy Domain Name DisputeThe Intellectual Property Enterprise Court has published its judgment in Ross v Playboy Enterprises International, Inc [2016] EWHC 1379 (IPEC). The court dismissed the claimant’s claim for declarations of non-infringement, groundless threats and entitlement to retain a domain name.

The claim arose out of the claimant’s ownership of the playboy.london domain name. The defendant, as owner of the world famous PLAYBOY trade marks, relied on a decision under the Uniform Domain Name Resolution Policy (UDRP) stating the domain should be transferred to it. The court held it did not have the authority to overturn the UDRP decision except in the case of manifest error, which was not relevant to this claim.

Evidence adduced at trial showed the claimant intended to use the domain name to chronicle the childhood and adolescence of his children. Access to the website would be restricted to users who had been given login details by the claimant. Accordingly, the court found there could be no trade mark infringement because the claimant was not selling any goods or services from the website. However, the judge ruled the claimant could not rely on the groundless threats provisions of the Trade Marks Act 1994.

The claimant claimed his use of the word PLAYBOY in the domain name was an ironic reference to himself. The judge concluded this irony relied on the reputation and goodwill in the PLAYBOY mark. Accordingly, the claimant’s use of the domain name would lead to passing off.

The court held it did not have the power to overturn the UDRP decision and the application for a declaration was an attempt to circumvent the court’s lack of jurisdiction. The judge further reasoned that granting a declaration stating there had been no trade mark infringement would not serve any useful purpose, since a similar declaration in relation to passing off could not be made. On this basis the claim was dismissed.