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National Arbitration Forum Rules Against TWHBEA

The National Arbitration Forum has ruled that the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association has exhibited a pattern of improper behavior and must transfer two disputed domain names to the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.  The disputed domain names are tennesseewalkinghorseworld and 

The Celebration was made aware of the fraudulent registrations in February of 2012 and discovered that TWHBEA President Marty Irby had the two domain names registered without the approval of the Celebration or the knowledge of the TWHBEA Executive Committee.  In an email dated Feb 25, 2012 Irby stated “I had the website address purchased over a year ago.  If the Celebration isn’t smart enough to do this that is their own fault.”

In addition, Irby had the domains linked to the TWHBEA Internet site so when a person clicked on those domain names they were taken to TWHBEA’s site.  After being challenged, TWHBEA deactivated the sites to no longer go to their site.

Made aware of the fraudulent registration and linkage to TWHBEA’s site, a TWHBEA director told a third party to inform the Celebration “that the EC was unaware of what Marty was doing and is willing to give all of Marty’s domain names at issue to the Celebration as an olive branch.”

After the next TWHBEA EC meeting, the director TOLD the Celebration that the EC had a “pretty wild weekend” and had not discussed the issue.  He went on to say “I stand by what I said.  I will make sure the Celebration is accommodated whether you just wanted it unhooked from the web site or whether you all are interested in acquisition.  This is something Marty did and had no connection with the EC in the first place; although I will make sure that they know and authorize further action.”

With no action being taken by TWHBEA, the Celebration sent a Cease and Desist letter to TWHBEA and members of the EC and was subsequently informed by TWHBEA counsel Walter Bussart that they were not in violation and would not honor the Cease and Desist letter.  President Irby reported to the EC in an email dated April 18 stating “The domain names are not in use but we own them.  I am meeting with Doyle Meadows at TWHNC about our sponsorship on Friday and will discuss this at that time and report to you all on Saturday.”

Upon receipt of Bussart’s letter stating that TWHBEA was not liable, Irby emailed his EC on May 4 as follows.  “Please find the attached copy of a letter from Bussart to Bone McAllister (TWHNC counsel).  I received a copy in the mail today and have scanned for you all to see.  Mr. Thomas informed of the status of this situation yesterday.  My goal is to use the website names as leverage in a TWHNC sponsorship if the EC sees fit.  Surely the two domains are worth $5,000 or more.  If not we will just keep them for ourselves.  We have less than $30 in the names plus whatever Bussart charged for the letter.”

Attorney Steve Zralek sent a settlement agreement to Bussart requesting a letter of apology and reimbursement for the Celebrations legal expenses.  Bussart said he would check with TWHBEA and wanted to know “if you would agree to disclose who shared the smoking gun email with you if they agreed to payment.”  Zralek told him that he was 99% sure that the Celebration would not share that information.
On July 19, the National Arbitration Forum (NAF) rendered a decision in favor of the Celebration and forced TWHBEA to transfer the names to The Celebration.

In their findings, NAF said “on May 4, 2012, Irby sent an email acknowledging that it (TWHBEA) is holding the disputed domain as leverage and seeking at least $5,000.  TWHBEA’s actions epitomize the very essence of cybersquatting.”

The findings went on to say that TWHBEA actions were a “bad faith registration and use of a domain name consisting of the Celebration’s distinctive mark.  Celebration has been using the mark World Grand Championship Tennessee Walking Horse since as early as 1939 to identify and distinguish its services in connection with Tennessee Walking Horses, including but not limited to providing recognition by way of awards.”

The opinion went on to say that the Celebration had made a prima facie showing that TWHBEA does not have any rights or legitimate interest in the disputed domain names and TWHBEA cannot establish that it has rights or legitimate interests in them.  TWHBEA’s registration of the disputed domain names is intended primarily for the purpose of selling the domain names to the Celebration for valuable consideration in excess of TWHBEA’s expenses. 

The findings stated “the disputed domain name was registered and is being used in bad faith pursuant to paragraph 4(b) (iv) of the policy. “We regret the necessity of having to turn to the NAF to resolve this matter” said Celebration CEO Doyle Meadows.  “We tried to settle this in February with a phone call, we later sent a Cease and Desist letter; our attorney drafted a settlement agreement that was ignored and we finally went to NAF at considerable and unnecessary expense. These are challenging times and it is unfortunate that time and money was wasted because of Mr. Irby’s actions.”

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