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When the domain google.com became available to be bought after a clerical error, it was bought by a man for $12 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-34504319).

I'm curious to know, because Google allowed their ownership of the domain to expire, why do they still have the rights to it even when it was bought by another individual. I'm aware it could have been disputed at court due to trademark infringement etc. but why were they able to refund the transaction and reclaim the domain without going through that process.

Would the individual who bought the domain be able to claim any right to it at all after he paid for it?

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    Wow, that is so funny.. it's like that guy was ruler of the world for 1 minute.. he should've immediately redirected all Google Adwords profits to himself! hehe – D.Tate Oct 12 '15 at 17:51
12

He bought it through Google Domains.

From the Name Registration Agreement:

Registration Acceptance. Google may accept or reject Registrant’s application for registration or renewal for any reason at its sole discretion, including, rejection due to a prohibited, improper, unavailable, infringing or otherwise questionable domain name. Google is not liable or responsible for any third party’s errors, omissions or other actions arising out of or related to Registrant’s domain name application, registration, or renewal, including any Registry Operator administrator’s failure to register or renew a domain name.

Google has not commented publicly but presumably they had some alert set up which sprung them to action and they cancelled. Arguably, if the registration had been with a different registration agent, Google would not have had the power to reverse the transaction and would have needed to use the dispute process. Keep in mind though, this thing is being called a bug, it's not like Google let the registration expire and it got snapped up.

EDIT TO ADD:

The Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy provides the rules for resolving these disputes. Somewhat obvious these days is that trademark owners have certain rights over domains which are their trademark or which are similar to their mark. However, the analysis does not stop at the existence of a bona fide trademark. The use to which the domain is put matters.Specific to the present facts:

A finding of the following shall demonstrate (SHALL DEMONSTRATE) your rights or legitimate interests to the domain name for purposes of Paragraph 4(a)(ii):

(4)(c)(iii) you are making a legitimate noncommercial or fair use of the domain name, without intent for commercial gain to misleadingly divert consumers or to tarnish the trademark or service mark at issue.

The reference to (4)(c) is referring to the section where we read that "complainant must prove that each of these three elements are present" -- EACH OF THESE THREE:

(i) your domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the complainant has rights; and

(ii) you have no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name; and

(iii) your domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.

The complainant FAILS THIS TEST if the registrar shows "legitimate noncommercial or fair use." (Remember, this is from the SHALL DEMONSTRATE part, supra)

In other words, there is a dispute process which must be followed. Just because someone registers Google does not mean that Google automatically gets it back.

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    section 6.D is also interesting: "To resolve mistakes in registering the Registered Name or disputes regarding the Registered Name, Registrant’s Registered Name registration may be subject to cancellation or transfer under any ICANN-adopted specification or policy, or under any registrar or Registry Operator procedure not inconsistent with an ICANN adopted specification or policy." and section 8.d – ratchet freak Oct 12 '15 at 15:19
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    Also, because of ban against domain parking, you cannot buy a trademarked name's address and wait for them to have to buy it from you. You have to have a pre-existing business to which that name is relevant or it's revocable. – gracey209 Oct 12 '15 at 17:43
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    If you look At the case law, it has to be a business... Or a blog I guess....but something pre-existing with that name. My point is, you cannot grab up a trademarked name unless you had already been doing something h with that name publicly, prior. I use the term business loosely... A blog can generate business. – gracey209 Oct 13 '15 at 14:52
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    No... I'm saying that you can't park yourself on a domain that uses a trademark unless you had a pre-existing use for that name... Pre-dating the trademark. I think the case that the rule (which was later codified) came from had to do with Victoria's secret or Fredrick of Hollywood. Anyhow, it was a case where the D bought up The domain one letter off, and then when people who tried to get to the business accidentally ended up there, it was just a site for like Viagra and they wouldn't sell until sued for it. Anyhow. It's more complex than there is room to go into detail, but in a nutshell. – gracey209 Oct 13 '15 at 15:46
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    @reirab …especially not if they're trying to buy google.com through Google Domains (i.e. domains.google.com)! – duskwuff Oct 13 '15 at 20:09
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I'm curious to know, because Google allowed their ownership of the domain to expire, why do they still have the rights to it even when it was bought by another individual.

You're making an incorrect assumption here.

The domain was never allowed to expire. An error in Google's domain registration interface allowed him to make an order for the domain. The domain was never actually purchased, but the act of ordering the domain gave Mr. Ved access to the domain in Google's Webmaster Tools.

As the domain was never actually available for purchase, Mr. Ved had no rights to it. (The domain is not even registered through Google's domain registration interface; it's under a completely separate company, MarkMonitor, that specializes in high-value domains.)

  • This makes sense and is probably the best answer. The money he was given was under the auspices of a bug report. This was not a typical purchase of an expired domain. In fairness though, MarkMonitor is just a managing agent. If they screwed up and allowed the domain registration to lapse, the domain would become available through any typical registration agent. Or are you saying that MarkMonitor has a deal with ICANN to keep high-value domains off the market? – jqning Oct 12 '15 at 19:40
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    If MarkMonitor had actually allowed the domain to expire, that'd be a completely separate matter. (But due to the way domain expirations work, it would have led to google.com being offline for at least 30 to 60 days, so it would have been noticed long before the domain became available!) – duskwuff Oct 12 '15 at 19:49
  • I'm just trying to figure out what it is about MarkMonitor that would keep a domain from being "registered through Google's domain registration interface." Other than the fact that MM keeps track of it. It sounds like if I set up QningMonitor and offered domain management that you would say that any domain that I am working with "is not even registered through Google's domain registration interface." – jqning Oct 12 '15 at 19:55
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    @jqning MarkMonitor is a registrar, not just a managing agent. They hold Google's domain registration for them, so it's not under Google's direct management. – duskwuff Oct 12 '15 at 20:48
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    @jqning Google is literally not able to modify the registration info for google.com by themselves -- while they operate a registrar, their registrar isn't accepted to make changes to google.com. – cpast Oct 13 '15 at 4:53
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It is likely this would have been handled under the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy, which provides that:

We may [...] cancel, transfer or otherwise make changes to a domain name registration in accordance with the terms of your Registration Agreement or other legal requirements.

(See jqning's answer)

But even if Google were not the registrar:

By applying to register a domain name, or by asking us to maintain or renew a domain name registration, you hereby represent and warrant to us that (a) the statements that you made in your Registration Agreement are complete and accurate; (b) to your knowledge, the registration of the domain name will not infringe upon or otherwise violate the rights of any third party; (c) you are not registering the domain name for an unlawful purpose; and (d) you will not knowingly use the domain name in violation of any applicable laws or regulations. It is your responsibility to determine whether your domain name registration infringes or violates someone else's rights.

If someone (Google) submits a complaint, they have to prove these elements:

(i) your domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the complainant has rights; and

(ii) you have no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name; and

(iii) your domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.

The definition of "bad faith" is rather lengthy, but includes things like trying to sell the domain for more than you paid for it, preventing the owner of a trademark from having the corresponding domain, and diverting traffic to your own website for commercial gain.

Given this situation, I find it unlikely this individual would have been able to keep the domain without hosting a non-commercial website out of pocket at considerable expense due to the large amount of traffic it would get, which strikes me as both improbable and unsustainable.

  • It happened too fast for this process to be followed. And this is all dependent on what the registrar was doing with the site. Perhaps I register google.com and use it to provide free help with math homework.*you are making a legitimate noncommercial or fair use of the domain name, without intent for commercial gain to misleadingly divert consumers or to tarnish the trademark or service mark at issue.* – jqning Oct 12 '15 at 18:03
  • @jqning: I consider that implausible. Sure, you can do it, but the opportunity costs would be staggering for a site with that much traffic, not to mention hosting. – Kevin Oct 12 '15 at 18:08
  • Plausibility has nothing to do with it. If a trademark holder wants to dispute a domain they need to follow the process. Part of that process is examining how the domain is being used by the registrant. You posted the first part of the test and frankly, it's not enough that the domain be confusingly similar. If your partial test were the complete test, trademark holders wouldn't need to worry about registration because they could get their domain back anytime. – jqning Oct 12 '15 at 18:17
  • @jqning: I did discuss the third prong of the test in a whole paragraph all to itself. I don't see what you want me to change. – Kevin Oct 12 '15 at 18:18

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