How do disputes about domain names get resolved?

Domain name registrations are governed by the 'first come, first served' principle, according to which whoever applies for a domain first can register it and hold its temporary right of use. While a registrant holds a domain, they also hold full responsibility for its use. Generally, registries will not assess a registrant's right to a domain. Exceptions include so-called "blocked domains" that are not to be registered pursuant to national law, or reserved lists that are only available for registration by certain governmental entities. Occasionally, domain names are registered in conflict with another party's rights, e.g., in case of a trademark infringement. In such cases, registries themselves do not assess conflicts.

The following options are available for conflict resolution:

Step 1: Contacting the domain holder

 The party which would like to raise a dispute may be able to find the domain holder's contact details via registries' domain lookup services, such as via online searches, WHOIS or RDAP protocols, and approach them directly. Alternatively, they can request disclosure of the domain holder's contact details, assuming that they can demonstrate legitimate interest.

Step 2a: Amicable agreements

Once contact has been established, in the best-case scenario, both parties would aim to reach an amicable agreement. An amicable agreement may consist in a transfer of the domain name to the rightsholder.

Step 2b: Dispute Resolution:

Should an amicable solution not be possible, the rightsholder can take action, either via Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) procedures or via court proceedings.

  • In case of a gTLD, with only a few exceptions and under certain conditions, rightsholders must pursue dispute resolution via the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP), conceived by ICANN and WIPO. The UDRP system does not provide for appeal procedures, however, parties can seek recourse through court proceedings.
  • Avenues for ccTLD registries differ, due to the absence of mandatory administrative proceedings under the UDRP, and the possibility to enshrine greater protections, for example for intellectual property rights, geographical indications or other recognised rights, in their policies or terms of use. The extent of these rights protections differs from registry to registry. Parties to a dispute may use the competent domestic courts system on the basis of national or EU legislation, or alternatively opt for ADR procedures, where available, which are offered for disputes regarding the right to use a domain name. Registries often specify in their policies which ADR forum parties to a dispute can appeal to.

Once a court or ADR procedure has been completed, and once deadlines for appeal have passed, registries can act on the basis of the ruling. The course of action depends on the dispute resolution decisions: for example, the disputed domain can be deleted, transferred, or left with a successful defendant.