Despite creating new challenges, the European Union’s (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has not stopped trademark owners from using the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) to enforce their rights.
However, in some cases, trademark owners may want to contact a domain name registrant before (or instead of) filing a UDRP complaint. And, in fact, some domain name registrants -- those who want to sell their domain names -- actually want to be contacted. As one domain name blogger has observed, "GDPR may be problematic for domain name investors, especially those who use Whois information to buy or sell domain names."
In the past, contacting a domain name registrant was a pretty simple task: Look up the domain name's "whois" record and send an email to the relevant contacts listed there. But now that the GDPR has redacted names and contact information from many whois records, this is often no longer a straightforward task.
Fortunately, there are still ways to contact a domain name registrant, even while ICANN is working on a long-term solution.
Here are four ways to attempt to reach a domain name registrant:
Check the Whois Record
In many cases, a domain name registrant's email address may still be available in a whois record. That's because the GDPR does not require deletion of all contact information from all domain name registrations -- and also because not all registrars are interpreting and applying the GDPR in the same manner. So, start by performing a proper whois search, and you just might find what you need, despite the GDPR.
Check the Website
Many domain name registrants publish contact information on their websites, of course -- sometimes because they are operating a business (regardless of the legitimacy of the business) and sometimes because they are trying to sell their domain name and want to make themselves easy to reach. A registrant that is trying to sell a domain name may include an email address or contact form on the website or even link or redirect to a third-party site that is selling the domain name. Any of those contacts may be a way to reach the registrant.
Guess the Address
Some domain name registrants configure default email addresses -- such as info@<domain.com> -- which can be tried. Indeed, the UDRP Rules even require that a dispute provider (such as WIPO or the Forum) contact the respondent in a UDRP proceeding at an address in the form of postmaster@<domain.com>. Other common usernames include "contact," "legal," "copyright," and "sales." Attempting to send an email to one or more of these email addresses is a complete guess but may prove to be worthwhile. If the email is returned as invalid or undeliverable, then you'll know what happened. On the other hand, if it doesn't bounce, you just might have reached someone (perhaps the registrant, perhaps someone else) who will be helpful.
Use the Registrar's Tools
ICANN's "Temporary Specification" (adopted on May 17, 2018) requires that registrars "must provide an email address or a web form to facilitate email communication with the relevant contact [of a domain name], but must not identify the contact email address or the contact itself." How this communication is being implemented is inconsistent and evolving. For example, GoDaddy currently includes a "Contact Domain Holder" link on its whois records, which includes a web form where users can "initiate an email to the address on file for the specified domain." However, as GoDaddy warns, "we can in no way guarantee that the Registrant will comply with your Contact Request."