In an arbitration ruling made on Aug. 25, two days ago, Disney Enterprises was granted ownership of disneyspark.com, an Internet domain name that was deemed “confusingly similar” to Disney’s own.
Disneyspark.com (note the location of the s) has been owned by J. Andrew Coombs since March 12, 2007, who has used it as a home to “a list of hyperlinks to [Disney’s] children’s entertainment products and services and third-parties that compete with [Disney]” according to the ruling. It’s a common money-making practice online for domains to be registered that are similar to popular topics, products, or companies in name, with the express purpose of featuring advertisements and/or product affiliate links to make the owner a few bucks. Essentially, those squatting on these domains often profit from the intellectual property to which they don’t own the rights.
In this case, Disney fought back and won, with arbitration deciding that Coombs’ addition of the “s” in the middle of the domain “is insufficient to differentiate a disputed domain name from a mark.” Disney already owns and uses the similar domains disneyparks.com and disneypark.com, both of which redirect to their website devoted to their United States theme parks. Disney does not appear to own disneysparks.com (with two s’s), but given the outcome of this arbitration, the owner of that domain must now be a little concerned, as his or her site is also comprised of nothing but ads and links.
But outside of these rather unhelpful, link-driven sites lies a realm of fantastic Disney fan sites, blogs, and forums that feature “Disney” in their own domains. One prominent example is the widely popular site, TheDisneyBlog.com. It’s an unofficial site but clearly features the “Disney” mark in its name. Should fans with similarly-named sites be concerned that their domains will be won over by the company they write about?
Disney, as of yet, does not have a history of shutting down fansites devoted to topics about The Walt Disney Company. In the case of disneyspark.com, the site had no perceivable value to anyone other than Coombs, who stood to make a decent amount of money from unsuspecting visitors thinking they were reaching an official Disney site and clicking on his cash-generating links. But with sites like TheDisneyBlog.com, there has never been any clear motive for Disney to take control of these domains, as they are often well-liked, full of useful information, and even positively promote Disney’s theme parks, products, and services. It regularly equates to free advertising for Disney.
But it’s exactly this concern that caused me to name this site “Inside the Magic” more than five years ago, rather than “Inside Disney.” I didn’t want the Mouse’s lawyers ever to come knocking on my door.
You can read the full disneyspark.com arbitration ruling here.