Government wrests URLs from atheist cybersquatter

The federal government has won a challenge to claim ownership of a series of dot-ca names originally registered by a British Columbia man who calls himself Darwin Bedford and uses the domain names to point to a number of Web sites promoting atheism and other causes.

David Bedford of Burnaby,

B.C. no longer has the right to use a series of dot-ca domain names such as statscanada.ca and governmentofcanada.ca, but almost two months after the ruling he continues to have use of those names and seven others to direct people to various sites, including atheists.net.

The 54-year-old Bedford, who has a company called Abundance Computer Consulting and also goes by the name Darwin Bedford on his Web site, said he originally purchased the domain names with the intention of selling them back to the government – asking $300 a piece – when it went to arbitration. He said he goes by Darwin on his Web site because David “”was not unique enough”” and it is also the name of the evolutionist, Charles Darwin.

“”I started using them for my activism – I’m an atheist activist, environmentalist and non-smoking activist. But because of what I had on the Web sites it was quite controversial, the government saw me as a squeaky wheel and took the names away from me,”” said Bedford.

Bedford’s time may be running out. The decision was handed down May 27 by a three-member panel acting under the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) domain name dispute resolution policy and Bedford has use for 60 days after the ruling. During that time he can challenge the decision in court, but he said he can’t afford the legal fees.

The order indicates nine names registered by Bedford, including theweatheroffice.ca, publicworkscanada.ca, gouvernementducanada.ca, ecgc.ca, transportcanada.ca and others be transferred to the government. It is up to CIRA to facilitate the transfer of the domain names.

Toronto lawyer Javad Heydary, a managing partner at Heydary Hamilton LLP, said he expects challenges to dot-ca names will increase in the near future.

“”You are seeing a huge increase in the registration of dot-ca names and at the same time a huge drop in the registration of generic popular domain names such as dot-com,”” he said. “”When you take that into account and the fact the whole dispute process is new, you are going to see a lot more of these decisions.””

Heydary said the fact the government hasn’t acted on using the government-related names won back from Bedford doesn’t surprise him.

“”They spend thousands winning back domain names, then if you go and type in the name it leads you to a dead page,”” he said. You’ve won the battle and have a judgement – make sure you use what you’ve got.””

In its written complaint, the government argued that Bedford had “”not used the domain names in good faith”” in connection with a non-commercial activity. It also said the names did not constitute his legal name or the location of his non-commercial activity or business. Calls to the Department of Justice were not returned at press time.

Only one of the 10 names challenged by the government – canadiancustoms.ca – was determined too generic and not similar enough to Canada Customs and Revenue Agency.

“”People shouldn’t assume they would find the Canada Customs and Revenue site,”” Bedford said. “”It basically comes down to trademark law and if the lawyers feel it’s an infringement on what is normal for trademark law, they will award the name to the claimant if they have rights. But there could be several people who could claim rights, so if it’s generic, you get to keep the name.””

In a prior decision in June 2001, under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, the government also successfully challenged Bedford’s use of 31 dot-com domain names such as transportcanada.com and statcanada.com.

Bedford has also registered domain names such as unitedstatesgovernment.org and usagov.com, which he uses to point to an anti-war, anti-American site. “”I guess the government got a lot of pressure put on them to do something about that,”” he said. “”So they shut me down with respect to the names they could.””

Bedford says he still has 220 domain names such as vancouverpolice.ca – a name he paid $32 for a one-year registration. He said he thinks the Vancouver police department is aware he owns the name, as his ISP received a call from lawyer in Vancouver about it.

“”Names become available and I can register them if I think there’s going to be traffic involved,”” he said. “”The first batch were a little more expensive – about $70 a year, but as prices come down I can pick up a name today for $15 – a name the government should have because people want to go there.””

CIRA assumed management of the dot-ca domain in December 2000 and the CDRP was launched in June 2002. Since the CDRP was introduced there have been 13 decisions. One of two Canadian dispute resolution policy service providers can be chosen by the complainant (in this case, the government) – Vancouver-based British Columbia International Commercial Arbitration and Resolution Canada Inc. located in Don Mills, Ont.

The dispute resolution fees range between $1,750 and $6,400 depending on the number of panelists and domain names involved. The complainant, in this case the government, pays the fees. But an arbitrator is not the last course of action an individual can take.

“”Those wishing to challenge the decision of the arbitrator still have a recourse through the legal system,”” said Gabriel Ahad, spokesman for CIRA. “”The CDRP does not replace Canada’s legal system. However we know that can be time consuming and require a rather significant amount of money. The CDRP is designed to provide relatively quick and relatively inexpensive process to challenge the rightful use of a domain name.””

Bedford said he plans to create another page for children, telling them there is no God.

“”It is going to be quite a philosophical piece and I’m going to point a whole lot of names at it including vancouverpolice.ca and they will complain,”” he said.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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