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Mormon Church Wrests Control of 'Confusing' Domain Name

If attracting internet traffic is important to you, obtaining professional advice is crucial to maintaining the distinctive character of your website. In an unusual case on point, the Mormon Church took effective action to wrest control of a domain name which had the potential to sow confusion amongst its online followers.

The Church, more formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, complained to internet watchdog Nominet following registration of a domain name which incorporated the conjoined phrase 'churchofjesuschrist'. The domain resolved to a website that provided information about leaving the Mormon Church. The Church contended, amongst other things, that the domain name was inherently confusing and would inevitably lead internet users looking for the Church's online presence to a website which was antithetical to its aims and purposes.

Amongst arguments put forward in his response to the complaint, the individual who registered the domain name asserted that the phrase was entirely generic, describing the whole of Christianity. He expressed concern that, if the complaint were upheld, the Church would obtain exclusive rights to the use of the phrase although its congregation represents only 0.69 per cent of the global Christian population.

Ruling on the matter, a Nominet expert noted that the Church's formal title enjoys trade mark protection. The domain name was similar to the trade mark and a significant number of members of the public were likely to believe that it was a shortened version or abbreviation of the Church's title. There could be little doubt that the domain name had been registered with the Church's title in mind.

The expert noted the importance of freedom of expression rights and acknowledged that websites which criticise others can operate lawfully. What was unacceptable, however, was to impersonate a trade mark owner for the purpose of misleadingly diverting internet traffic to a website which attacks that trade mark owner.

The domain name and the trade mark, whilst not identical, were similar to a misleading extent and the expert inferred that the former had been chosen deliberately with a view to attracting internet users expecting to find a website operated or authorised by the Church.

The domain name had been registered and used in a manner that took unfair advantage of or was unfairly detrimental to the Church's rights. The expert concluded that the domain name was an abusive registration in the hands of the registrant and directed its transfer to the Church.