Only in Canada? .CA Whois Policy will create more uncertainty for Trade-mark owners

Still catching up on press releases received over the last few weeks. The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (“CIRA”) is pushing ahead with implementation of its new Whois Policy despite resistance from trade-mark owners and other IP rights holders. Once implemented (likely in late fall of 2006), an individual Registrant of a .CA domain name will be able to cloak their identity unless they opt to disclose it. This is so, even if the .CA domain name links to a commercial website. Disclosure can be forced only in certain limited circumstances, pursuant to a court order, search warrant and the like.

Trade-mark or other IP rights owners who believe an individual Registrant is cybersquatting or otherwise infringing their rights will have no way to find out who that individual is, to contact them directly to try to work out a settlement or to properly assess the likelihood of a successful dispute resolution proceeding (called a CDRP proceeding). CIRA have rejected their own Consultant’s recommendation that CDRP Complainants should have access to the identity of an individual Registrant, subject to various safeguards.  CIRA’s suggested solution is to permit a Complainant to file rebuttal evidence on the issue of legitimate interest, in response to the evidence, if any, filed by an individual Registrant on that issue. Filing additional evidence on the issue of bad faith will require permission of the dispute resolution panel.

A potential Complainant under this new system will have a risky and expensive decision to make – whether to commence a CDRP proceeding without a crucial piece of information – the identity of the individual Registrant – and risk finding out only after the Registrant files his or her evidence (this requires that the Complainant first submit its Complaint and evidence and incur the fees inherent in doing so) that he or she indeed has a legitimate interest in the domain name – which if the Complainant had known from the outset, the CDRP might have been avoided altogether.

Interesting to note that CIRA’s new Whois policy doesn’t contain the commercial purpose exception that applies to .co.uk domain names, which permits Nominet to release the Whois details even if the Registrant is an individual – not to mention that it’s also an opt out system.

In a related development, CIRA is currently seeking public input on how to implement its new Whois policy and is seeking to hire a consultant to complete a review of the CDRP process and recommend options for change.