Domain Name Registrar Isn’t Liable for Hijacked Domain Name–Rigsby v. GoDaddy

Rigsby registered the domain name via GoDaddy. He claims GoDaddy didn’t give him proper notice of renewal, so the domain name lapsed. It was then registered by an interloper who displays gambling-related material. Rigsby asked GoDaddy to give him the domain name back. When that failed, he sued for Lanham Act violations, publicity rights violations, defamation, and unfair competition. The court grants GoDaddy’s motion to dismiss.

Lanham Act. For domain name registrars, the court treats the ACPA as the exclusive source of any Lanham Act liability. Stated the proposition that broadly, we know it can’t be true. I think the court meant to say that such preemption only occurs with respect to performing the function of domain name registration (or domain name hosting, though courts rarely are that precise about the different functions). Applying the court’s overbroad standard, GoDaddy is a domain name registrar and didn’t have the requisite bad faith intent to profit to satisfy the ACPA, so it isn’t liable under the Lanham Act. Also, GoDaddy didn’t “use” the domain name in commerce (cites to Petroliam Nasional Berhad v. GoDaddy and Lockheed Martin v. NSI).

Section 230. With respect to the defamation and publicity rights claims, the court says “At no point do Plaintiffs assert that Defendants independently publish or generate the website content at issue,” so Section 230 applies. The court treats the unfair competition claim as being based on GoDaddy’s publication of allegedly false material, so that too is covered by Section 230. The court says that Section 230 didn’t apply to the Lanham Act claim because of 230’s IP exclusion, apparently missing the Ninth Circuit’s Malwarebytes ruling directly on point.

E-SIGN. Rigsby claimed that GoDaddy’s contract formation process didn’t comply with E-SIGN. The court responds that E-SIGN doesn’t have a private right of action, nor does Arizona’s implementation of UETA. Note: we don’t get many court opinions discussing E-SIGN or UETA, so I was nerdding out about this discussion. 🤓

Case citation: Rigsby v. GoDaddy Inc., 2021 WL 2416829 (D. Ariz. June 14, 2021). Rigsby’s complaint.