Sex, Kids and Domain Names

Although domain name disputes involving adult content are among the oldest types of cybersquatting schemes, it seems as if porn sites using someone else's trademarks are less common than in the past -- perhaps because cybersquatters have found more effective ways to monetize their domain names. Or perhaps because they've consistently lost domain name disputes where sex-related websites are involved. Despite this background and the recent trend, one UDRP case is notable: <>.

For the benefit of those who don't have young children, or weren't children themselves since the mid 1970s, "Hello Kitty" is a fictional character originally aimed at pre-adolescent girls whose image first appeared on a vinyl coin purse and now can be seen on everything from plush toys to diaper bags to dresses. The "Hello Kitty" brand is owned by a company called Sanrio, which says the character "loves to bake and she can make really delicious cookies."

The Los Angeles Times has described "Hello Kitty" as "a part of global popular culture" since 1974, and Wikipedia cites the Detroit Free Press for valuing the "Hello Kitty" brand at "about $7 billion a year."

Naturally, the character's value holds appeal for those who want to take advantage of it, regardless of their rights or the consequences of their actions.

Enter <>.

In a UDRP dispute filed by Sanrio, the panel said simply that the domain name was used by its registrant in connection with "adult oriented materials." A search of the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine (which UDRP panels often cite) shows that the domain name was previously used to promote a woman who describes herself as Mistress Kitty -- "a Fetish Professional" who specializes in such things as "Sensual Bondage" and whose "greatest joy" is in "helping someone realize their deepest, darkest fantasies."

(Interestingly, a photograph of Mistress Kitty shows her with a patch of pink across the front of her blonde hair -- similar to the pink ribbon that the Hello Kitty character always displays across her white head.)

The website using the <> domain name included photographs of Mistress Kitty performing some of her services with a nude man. Another page lists Mistress Kitty's fees, starting at $250 per hour.

Regardless of what anyone may think of Mistress Kitty, her services or the photos on her website, one thing is without question: The content is not suitable for children. And the UDRP panel readily agreed, entering an order with minimal discussion that the domain name should be transferred to Sanrio (which, presumably, will maintain the domain name registration but disassociate it from any website).

Of course, not all sex-related cybersquatting takes advantage of popular children's brands. But frequently, using a domain name that contains someone else's trademark in connection with adult-related content is not something that domain name panelists look upon favorably.

As one UDRP panel wrote many years ago, in a dispute against the popular cybersquatter John Zuccarini:

Respondent’s acts of typo-squatting and redirecting the Domain Name to pornographic websites do not qualify as a bona fide offering of goods or services.... Bad faith is further evidenced by Respondent’s use of the Domain Name to forward Internet browsers to websites featuring pornographic material.

The <> case is just one of the latest examples of cybersquatting and adult-related content. It also makes clear that anyone -- any trademark owner -- can be targeted by cybersquatters without regard to the impact on consumers.