Copyright and trademark – these are the two intellectual property rights practices that are common in Bangladesh. In case of copyright, the law provides an author with special rights that nobody, except the author, can make a copy of his or her books. Similarly, in case of trademark, the owner is provided with a special right that no one, beside him or her, can use that trademark.
Now, the emergence of digital telecommunication has created a convergence of these two traditional intellectual property rights concepts. What so far has been regarded as a trademark issue now has also become a copyright issue.
Furthermore, ownership through intellectual property rights that we have been practicing till now is essentially linked to products. In recent decades, we have witnessed the growth of service oriented economies. Due to the development of the service sector, the significance of trademark has further increased.
For service-oriented businesses, the website addresses is a proper address. If someone infringes on this trademark of theirs, they can actually infringe upon a large part of their business. Therefore, to protect these businesses, some extraordinary measures should be taken.
Unfortunately, in Bangladesh, we have trademark and copyright laws, but the aspect of digitalization is not reflected in these laws. When it comes to domain registration, there are preliminary investigations in developed countries on whether the name has a conflict of interest with someone else. So, a thorough investigation is conducted at the beginning. But sadly in Bangladesh, these measures are not followed.
The domain name registration process in Bangladesh, for long, has traditionally been conducted by a wing of telecommunication ministry. Since the beginning, they have been giving registration to anyone with any name they want. So, the registration system itself is wrong.
Since the registration of a domain create rights of a particular person on the address, the authorities should have considered from the beginning whether these registrations violate someone else's rights in the process. They should have developed such a mechanism from the beginning.
In the absence of such a mechanism, they have created a space for domain name piracy for some people as they register some globally renowned brand names as their own.
So, how does this work?
The globally renowned brands – that we call well-known mark in legal terms – acquire their names for advertising and for their own existence across the world. So for these marks, having registration in each country separately is time-consuming and far too expensive. As per international standards, a giant company from the United States doesn't need to register in Bangladesh separately because it is a well-known mark.
For example, Coca-Cola. It is a widely known brand globally. So, if it doesn't register in a country separately, does it mean an individual from the particular country can take hold of the name? No, this shouldn't be the case. Similarly, Facebook, Twitter, Google or YouTube, these companies have become famous within a few years. For such companies, it is not possible to register their names in each country separately.
Exploiting this, some people in Bangladesh have taken hold of the names of these global companies through our faulty registration system. As per international law, domain names of well-known marks that have come in possession of a group or person should be invalidated by the government. But that didn't happen in Bangladesh. Consequently, we are witnessing these unfortunate lawsuits.
We are now talking about these trademark violations because of the Facebook lawsuits, however, there are many other well-known marks' pirated sites in Bangladesh. This may create a worldwide piracy issue in the future. If these scopes for piracy continue, it will ruin the country's image in the global stage. When we are trying to attract direct foreign investment in Bangladesh, these issues give us negative publicity on the world stage.
To ensure that these incidents are not repeated, the process of domain name registration should be modified. There should be a transparent mechanism so that people can seek redress if their rights are violated in the digital space. These modified rules and regulations can play a role in preventing trademark piracy in the future.
Tanjib-ul Alam is a Barrister