This is a good example of the World Intellectual Property Organisation's “Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy” (UDRP) being used, published by The Guardian today.

Walmart.horse, a parody website owned by comic artist Jeph Jacques (best known for his award-winning daily webcomic "Questionable Content") has been taken back by Walmart after a plea under the UDRP - though as the Guardian notes, the plea never made it to the panel. It seems likely that Walmart were unsure about the success of their claim, and made a settlement offer to Mr Jacques.

It seems absurd that this dispute should ever have arisen - the website is clearly a parody, and indeed Mr Jacques initially defended the site under fair use:

“I would argue that Walmart.horse is an obvious parody and therefore falls under fair use... ...Publicly available images of a horse, a Walmart store, and comical music make it clear that the site is meant to be a joke.”

furthermore, as reported by Ars Technica:

"it’s a piece of postmodern Dadaism—nonsense-art using found objects, in this case publicly available images and the name of an megacorporation. Its purpose is to provoke exactly the kind of response it has received, and in doing so to parody the Walmart corporation and its actions. Claiming that walmart.horse defames the Walmart brand somehow is the highest possible satire, and the fact that this accusation came from Walmart itself is a most delicious piece of irony."

However, outside of fair use, trademarks can be defended under the WIPO's UDRP, allowing trademark owners to claim back domain names provided that they are "confusingly similar" to another's domain, and that the name is being used "in bad faith" - the policy is designed to combat cybersquatting issues such as this.

Given the size of QC's fanbase (roughly every teenager and student in the world with access to the internet), there's a real possibility of this blowing into a Streisand effect fiasco. Far more people are now aware of the website, and the dispute, than would have been aware had Walmart left it alone - in the eyes of the public it's possible that Walmart have hoisted themselves with their own petard, damaging their own brand.

It seems like a strong example of risk management having to be balanced against an aggressive trademark protection policy - a tricky line to toe.

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