RealTime IT News

Was Madonna.com Decision Rigged?

An arbitration panel has awarded pop singer Madonna the rights to the Web address madonna.com. But the site's current owner Tuesday accused the WIPO panel of impropriety.

Dan Parisi, owner of madonna.com since 1998, said in a note at the site that the three-member panel assigned to handle the high-profile case was stacked against him. Parisi, who declined an interview, said in the note that the presiding panelist, Mark Partridge, is a trademark attorney who has in the past represented corporations in their efforts to evict so-called cybersquatters. According to Parisi, that's unfair.

But in an interview Tuesday with InternetNews Radio, Partridge, a partner at Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson in Chicago, denied Parisi's charge.

"I'm offended by what he says. I represent a wide variety of clients with a lot of different interests, as do most panelists who serve on these matters. So far I've decided nearly thirty of these cases, and they've been equally split between the complainants and respondents. I certainly don't decide these cases with any agenda," said Partridge, who cited a recent decision involving Rollerblade Inc. and the site Rollerblading.com as an example.

Like all respondents under ICANN's uniform dispute resolion policy, Parisi had input on and a chance to complain up front about the composition of the panel. But according to Partridge, Parisi said nothing until after the October 12th ruling, which turned unanimously against him -- despite the fact that one of the panelists, David Sorkin, was suggested by Parisi's attorneys.

In the note at his site, Parisi has launched an attack on the ICANN domain arbitration process overall. Echoing other critics who believe the system unfairly favors trademark holders, Parisi wrote, "This case was about whether big business has the right to claim exclusive ownership of common words in the English Language and to take them out of the public domain, and they ruled that big business has that right."

Partridge was reluctant to comment directly on the specifics of the madonna.com decision, but he defended the general process used by domain arbitration panelists.

"What we look to are the totally of the circumstances. And if it appears that the registrant has adopted the name and is using it for a commercial purpose to attract traffic to a website due to confusion or association with someone else, then that's a bad-faith registration. So here, those facts were present. If they hadn't been, the results could well have been different," he said.

The WIPO panel's decision on Madonna.com noted that Parisi has been involved in other domain disputes in the past. He registered for example, wallstreetjournal.com and edgaronline.com. He's also the owner of the whitehouse.com pornography site.

Parisi obtained madonna.com for $20,000 from a domain broker and operated it as a porn site until 1999. Soon thereafter, he offered to give the domain to the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Nebraska, which uses the addresses madonna.org.

Theresa Harms, director of marketing and public relations, said Tuesday that the hospital would have accepted the domain if Parisi had won the WIPO arbitration.

"We would have liked to have it, but we weren't heavily pursuing it. We were on the sidelines watching the decision, and we're out of the picture now," said Harms.

Parisi has 10 days after the WIPO panel ruling to launch a formal