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Cheech and Chong win back domain name

A New Jersey man's dream of owning a Cheech and Chong domain name has gone up in smoke.

The pot-loving comedy duo has wrested cheechandchong.com away from Ryan Tracy and his Traced, Inc., winning a WIPO administrative panel ruling that the domain was registered in bad faith to take advantage of Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong's famous trademark.

WIPO panelist William R. Towns found that Traced registered the name "to intentionally attract Internet users to its website for commercial gain, by creating a likelihood of confusion with the (duo's) mark as to source, sponsorship, or affiliation," according to the 11-page ruling released Friday.

It's pretty standard for WIPO to side with well-known entertainers against those who have piggy-backed on their exact names. (Madonna.com and tomcruise.com come to mind as examples of domains awarded back to their namesakes.)

Cheech But there's a twist in this case. Traced first registered the domain in 1998, years after Marin and Chong had stopped performing as the duo, and it was initially operated as a fan forum without any merchandise for sale or links to ads. Even though Marin and Chong objected to the site in 2004, they apparently changed their minds and consented in 2006, and Tommy Chong even started providing merchandise to be sold on the site. Only when Cheech and Chong decided to get back together and tour in 2008 did they re-assert their objections, which eventually led to the filing of a WIPO complaint in September.

The arbitrator, interestingly, didn't seem to care about the previous consent, ruling that "while (Traced) claims to have obtained the (duo's) consent for its comercial use of the domain name in 2006, such consent, if any, was revoked."

The ruling sends a pretty clear message to reps for talent: even if you might have looked the other way and allowed a fan site to use your client's famous name, you can change your mind if you don't like what they're doing.

Cheech and Chong were together repped by Marvin Gelfand and a team at Beverly Hills' Weissmann Wolff firm. Traced was repped by solo practitioner Michael J. Brown.