I have to admit that when I first saw the UDRP decision summary listing for the domain name www.ricknielsen.com I had no idea who Rick Nielsen was or that the dispute involved the guitarist from Cheap Trick, a/k/a the “American Beatles.” It was nice to see that everything old is new again and that the guitarist for one of my favorite bands when I was a kid still has enough “street cred” to enforce his intellectual property rights in the 21st Century and stop someone from squatting on his name.
The decision is not ground-breaking but it has a few noteworthy aspects. First, Mr. Nielsen does not own a U.S. Trademark Reg. for his name, though he does have two pending trademark applications (likely inspired by this situation). Instead he relied on common law trademark rights, and there was ample evidence presented by Mr. Nielsen that he is well known, having worked in the music industry for over 40 years with some of the leading bands/musicians in the world.
Second, the name “Rick Nielsen” is relatively common (turning up numerous results on a Google Search as noted by Respondent), and Mr. Nielsen is not necessarily a household name. The panelist noted that Mr. Nielsen’s name/mark did not rise to the level of musicians that have enforced common law rights in their name/mark under UDRP law in the past: “[h]ere, while not as famous as the MICK JAGGER common law mark, the Panel finds that Complainant has presented sufficient evidence…” Even so, the panelist went out of his way to not make any judgments about the relative strength of the RICK NIELSEN name/mark except to say that Mr. Nielsen had provided enough evidence to show that his name was well-known in the music industry and establish common law rights.
Lastly, the fact that the Respondent used the site to post music links and had a history of registering domain names of famous people and posting pay-per click sites appeared to obviate any evidence that Respondent presented that it was planning to use the domain for an alleged site that he/she was building that related to the SEO guru Mr. Rick Nielsen. Although the decision does not say it, it is apparent that this purported plan was not given any weight by the panel as it was not cited or discussed at all even though it was the only plausible basis for the Respondent to assert a legitimate right to the domain.
In sum, the decision is a good sign for musicians, celebrities and entertainers who may not be household names, but have established solid careers in their respective fields and can site this decision as support if they are confronted with a case of cyber-squatting.