Quebec snoozes, loses battle over Quebec.com domain name

·National Affairs Contributor
Screengrab of landing page for the website Quebec.com

As if things weren't going badly enough for the Parti Quebecois, with its floundering re-election campaign, the provincial government just lost a battle for the right to use Quebec.com as a domain name.

According to the Huffington Post, this wasn't a case of the provincial government feuding with an alleged cyber squatter. The province simply waited way too long to try and claim the domain name controlled by Anything.com, which in turn is owned by Tucows Inc., a domain name wholesaler operating out of the Cayman Islands.

The Quebec.com site is currently being used as a launch point for advertising Quebec-related products and services.

The province filed a complaint with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) last December under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy.

[ Related: Three ways ‘cyber squatting’ messes with your online experience ]

Quebec's complaint alleged the disputed domain name infringes on the province's intellectual property rights because it could easily be confused with the Quebec trademark already registered in Canada.

The company has never used it to sell goods or services and only uses it as a "parking page" for links to various businesses inside and outside Quebec, the province contended. It also aimed to profit by creating confusion among those looking for information on Quebec who mistakenly think they've landed on an official government site, thus "tarnishing the image of [the] complainant's trademarks," the complaint says.

For its part, the company said the province can't claim protection for Quebec as a trademark because "it is a descriptive term not subject to trademark protection as a stand-alone word mark." The term describes a geographic place.

But the most damning part is that the Anything.com registered the domain name Quebec.com in July 1998, when it became available. The province waited 15 years to complain. If anything, Quebec should be found guilty of "reverse domain name hijacking," the company argued.

In its ruling handed down earlier this month, the three-member WIPO panel rejected Anything.com's claim that the province had no right to trademark the protection for the word Quebec. It also dismissed allegations of reverse hijacking, saying the province had a legitimate right to try and protect its trademarks.

Nonetheless, the panel didn't accept the province's claim Quebec.com was some kind of false flag, pretending to be an official government site. The links take people looking for goods and services in Quebec mainly to sites that provide them, and the page has been used for years by businesses to advertise and promote their wares, the report said.

The panel, which included Nelson Landry of the Copyright Board of Canada, also dismissed Quebec's claim the site was a bad-faith effort to profit from the name, tarnishing that name in the process.

"If this were its intention it has had 15 years to get up a website to suggest that it was the website of the Government of Quebec, but it has not done so," the decision said.

"Its website makes no suggestion that it is the Government of Quebec, that it is modeling itself on the government, that it has any authority in governmental affairs or that it is in any other way trying to induce in a visitor the false notion that it is anything other than the commercial site that it plainly is."

[ Related: Ready for .sucks or .sexy? New domain names available next week ]

Finally, the panel noted, Quebec simply waited too long before trying to go after the web site.

". . . [T]he present case is a classic example of the problems facing complainants who do not pursue their remedies in a timely manner," it said in the decision.

". . . [I]f it is assumed that Complainant has been performing its governmental duties properly, it must have been aware or should have made itself aware of the Disputed Domain Name and the way it was being used, not briefly, but for 15 years."

A post on Domain Name Wire called the case a "no brainer."

"The only surprise in this case is that the panel didn’t find reverse domain name hijacking," Andrew Allemann wrote. "The panel declined to find RDNH because it determined it wasn’t the government’s intention to 'harass' the domain owner.

Well, I suppose the PQ government, or which ever party is in power after the April 7 election, could always try to buy the domain name from Anything.com.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting