.ca domain names are personal property


Victoria Carrington

There are many grey areas in trademark law that frustrate lawyers and clients alike because of the lack of straightforward answers to what seem to be simple questions. The legal status of domain names has been one such issue.

In some countries, such as the US, the approach of the courts in the early 2000s was to decline to recognise domain names as personal property. Courts initially likened domain names to telephone numbers, taking the approach that, like telephone numbers, a domain name is merely a contractual right (to be associated with a given internet protocol address) arising from a registration agreement between the domain name registrant and a registrar. 

Since domain names were not considered personal property, US courts initially refused to order the seizure of domain names or to apply the tort of conversion in cases where domain names were improperly transferred.

As jurisprudence developed, US courts became more willing to accept that domain names were something more than mere contractual rights. The advent of the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), which permits an in rem proceeding against a domain name (similar to tangible property), helped move jurisprudence forward in this regard, although that legislation falls short of actually stating that domain names are property.

trademark law, domain names, ACPA, .ca