Jimi Hendrix Estate Thwarts Cybersquatter

The family of late guitar legend Jimi Hendrix has prevailed in a legal proceeding brought against the holder of the Internet address Jimihendrix.com, UN arbitrators announced Monday.

The Hendrix family filed a complaint in May against Denny Hammerton of Minneola, Florida, with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Arbitration and Mediation Center in Geneva. Marylee Jenkins, the panelist reviewing the case, held that Hammerton had no legitimate rights or interests in the domain name. She said that Hammerton registered and used the URL in bad faith, violating the Hendrix family’s trademark rights.

Hammerton was ordered to transfer the name to the Hendrix family.

Experience Hendrix

The family of the world-renowned rock musician owns the rights to the music, name, image and recordings of Jimi Hendrix through a company they formed in 1995 called Experience Hendrix, L.L.C. They also own four United States trademark registrations for Hendrix, which cover goods such as music books, pre-recorded video and audiocassettes featuring his music, and clothing bearing the Hendrix name or likeness.

In April of 1996, Hammerton registered www.jimihendrix.com in the name of “The Jimi Hendrix Fan Club,” and soon after offered for sale vanity e-mail addresses incorporating the jimihendrix.com domain name. When the Hendrix family became aware of this use in April 1997, they requested that Network Solutions, the registrar of the name, place it on “Hold” status, in effect, causing Hammerton to cease operation of the site.

It was not until the WIPO decision, however, that the matter was resolved in favor of the Hendrix family and the rights to the domain name reverted to them.

‘That’s Tough’

Hammerton is a known domain name speculator who claims to own rights to over 2,000 Web site names, including Jethrotull.com and Fleetwoodmac.com. In an article cited in the WIPO decision, Hammerton is quoted as saying, “[s]ome people like it, some people don’t — that’s tough… It’s real estate. If I buy land that somebody wants, then lucky me.”

The Hendrix family disclosed in their complaint that Hammerton offered to sell the name to them for “an exorbitant amount of money.” He was also advertising to sell jimihendrix.com on a domain name reseller site for $1 million (US$).

In addition to this offering, Hammerton advertised to sell “elvispresley.net” for $39,000, “jethrotull.com” for $8,000, “mickjagger.com” for $25,000, “paulmccartney.com” for $25,000 to $51,000 and “lindamccartney.com” for $15,000 to $25,000, among others. He has apparently already sold or transferred the domain names “johnlennon.com,” “eltonjohn.com,” “otisredding.com,” “whitneyhouston.com” and “barrymanilow.com” to others.

In his response to the complaint, Hammerton argued that he did not use the domain name in bad faith, nor did he try to sell it. He contended that “it becomes a violation of human rights and free speech that an arbitrary board such as WIPO… should have any rights over any domain name which is owned by the original domain name owner… [O]nce WIPO takes that domain name away from the original owner it constitutes theft under the American Constitution.”

Bad Faith Found

The WIPO panelist noted that the site at issue was never used for a “Jimi Hendrix Fan Club,” as claimed, and that contrary to Hammerton’s arguments, there was substantial evidence that he tried to sell the domain name.

The decision stated that “by using the domain name, the holder [Hammerton] has intentionally attempted to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to the holder’s Web site or other online location, by creating a likelihood of confusion with the complainant’s mark.”

WIPO, one of 16 specialized agencies of the United Nations system of intergovernmental organizations, is charged with promoting the protection of intellectual property throughout the world through international cooperation and for the administration of various multilateral treaties dealing with the legal and administrative aspects of intellectual property.

Samar Shamoon, a WIPO spokesperson, told the E-Commerce Times that “as of July 31, 2000 a total of 904 cases had been filed since this system was set up in December 1999. Four hundred twenty-nine cases are still pending, and 475 have been completed.”

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