from WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center
from a recent judgement which dismissed the Complaint of the Sahaja Yoga
organization against a group of its ex-members, who had taken as a domain name
something very similar to that of the main org. Included are the points made by
Respondent and most of the terms of the judgement. Paragraphs
in navy blue contain arguments hinging on peculiar
weaknesses of Complainant's case deemed not to be relevant in general to similar
cases. Note the reliance on the precedent in blue
from last year of osho.com's failed complaint against oshoworld.com.
Another small blow for religious freedom!
While responding to the Complaint Respondent in its Response has contended that
there are 116 registered gTLD domain names containing the word
Sahaj or Sahaja which is the
Sanskrit word for "spontaneous, natural, effortless" that has been
used by third parties, spiritual and religious groups without limitation well
before the Complainant decided to claim its ownership. As shown in the
Encyclopedia Britannica, Sahaja Yoga is not a service mark owned by the
Complainant, but the name of the religion founded by the Indian poet and mystic
Kabir circa 1500. Kabir’s Sahaja Yoga was the forerunner of Sikhism as well as
lesser-known Indian sects such as the Kabir Panthis and numerous Sant Mat sects
such as the Radha Soamis.
Not only is ‘Sahaja Yoga’ used as a name for the central practice of sects
like the Radha Soamis that look back to Kabir, but it is also used as a name for
the central practice of some Kashmiri Shaiva sects. Mrs. Srivastava founded
Sahaja Yoga after meeting Swami Muktananda, a guru of the 1200 year-old Kashmiri
Shaiva tradition who referred to his method as ‘Sahaja Yoga’.
The Complainant is aware of Kabir being the originator of the name Sahaja Yoga.
Therefore it cannot be claimed that the choice of the Sahaja Yoga denomination
is or was accidental.
Neither can Complainant justify the use of Sahaja Yoga as a result of Mrs.
Srivastava's lineage or descent from the 500-year-old tradition, as she clearly
claims the "Unique Discovery" in 1970.
Respondent is firmly of the view that religious terms cannot be trade/service
marked. The validity of the service mark registered by the Complainant with the
United States Patent and Trademark Office can be challenged: Sahaja (i.e.
"natural") and Yoga (i.e. "union" or "yoking") are
generic names devoid of distinctiveness with respect of the service mark "Sahaja
Yoga" these identify. In the same manner as Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Karma
Yoga or Kundalini Yoga, Sahaja Yoga is a generic name that should be used freely
and cannot be monopolized. For this reason, Respondent will henceforward refer
to Complainant's alleged «service mark» in brackets.
It is clear that the Complainant chose to register the «service mark» in the
United States and not in India, the country of origin, in an attempt to achieve
registration successfully in a country where yogic traditions are relatively
unknown. Such an attempt is interpreted by the Respondent as an abuse of the
United States Patent and Trademark Office. Complainant commonly advertises its
services by associating the word Yoga with other sanskrit/hindi qualificative
terms, Nirmala (pure) and Maha (great). Allowing such trademark abuse, would logically
authorize Complainant to claim ownership of most Yoga and meditation practices.
Regarding the reason why the Complainant decided to register Sahaja Yoga more
than 30 years after its alleged beginning in 1970, it is the Respondent's
opinion that such a decision was recently made in the hope of obtaining legal
means to silence the newly-created website of the Sahaja Yoga Ex-Members
Network. The webmaster of the Complainant's www.sahajayoga.org, wrote in October
2000 "we want to assure everyone that we have started measures to
protect the names we have been using and have been registering since Sahaja Yoga
was started. It's really sad that we have to take action to protect the good
name of Sahaja Yoga and it's aliases, but we are not going to roll over on this
one!". Contrary to what the webmaster suggests, neither trade nor «service
mark» on Sahaja Yoga had ever been registered prior to August 29, 2000.
Complainant does not need another domain name reflecting its «service mark».
The table below summarizes the status of domain names owned by the Complainant (gTLDs
only, Respondent has decided to spare this arbitration the longer list of
country domain names).
[A list of similar domains
owned but mostly not used by the Complainant]
- Out of the 16 owned domain names, only 2 domain names direct visitors to
active websites. The 14 other are inactive, unused domain names. This clearly
demonstrates Complainant's trivial need for an additional domain name and
represents evidence of cyber monopolization of a domain name by the Complainant.
In case Number: FA0006000094990, National Arbitration Forum, Minneapolis (Osho
International Foundation v. Osho Dhyan Mandir and Atul Anand), a sole panelist
ruled "To grant Complainant's request for relief would be to permit
virtual monopolization on the Internet by Complainant of any domain name which
includes the name of a great spiritual teacher and leader. While making no
judgment on the relative merits or validity of the world's religions or
spiritual movements or any leader thereof, this Arbitrator finds that permitting
this would be as improper as doing the same with Christianity, Judaism, Islam,
Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism or any of
the several hundred other of the world's religions and/or spiritual movements.
Neither The Lanham Act nor the ICANN Policy and Rules contemplate or intend such
Placing reliance on the above-mentioned decision the Respondent contends that it
should be understood that even if the domain name <sahaja-yoga.org> is
similar to Complainant's sahajayoga.org, the right to use a domain name
containing the name of a religion should in no way be exclusive to the
The Respondent does not deem it necessary to ask permission from the Complainant
to use the name of Sahaja Yoga, which existed 500 years before the Complainant
decided to claim its ownership.
The Respondent certainly never considered the disputed domain name to be
essential to the manifestation of its human rights.
The attempts by the Complainant to mislead the arbitration by dragging these
proceedings into a "Human Rights in Domain-Name-Arbitration" debate
is, in Respondent’s opinion, a manipulative effort to impute on the Respondent
the wrong argumentation. In more familiar terms, the Complainant builds its case
by making the Respondent say what the Respondent never said.
The Respondent has again invited the attention of the Panel to the following
portion of E-mail exchanges:
wrote: "As a consequence we, the
Sahaja Yoga Association Switzerland ask you, the Sahaja-Yoga Ex-members Network
to immediately remove all the content from you (sic) web site SAHAJA-YOGA.ORG."\
which Respondent replied with a simple question:
you disputing a domain name or our human rights? "
It is contended by the Respondent that it should be clear to anyone reading the
email exchange, that the aim of the Respondent in this simple question was to
provoke the Complainant into admitting its intentions on their request "to
remove all the content" from the website.
Respondent’s domain name was not chosen to be identified as the Complainant's
organization. The title of the Respondent's sahaja-yoga.org website, displayed
in large characters, is self-explanatory and leads to no misinterpretation: "Sahaja Yoga: Facts and Warnings from Ex-Members"
The Complainant's suggestion that the Respondent has indirect financial interest
by the fact that the sahaja-yoga.org website is hosted by Tripod, a free
web-space provider, is a far-fetched and altogether weak argument. In
contradiction to the Complainant's statements, Tripod's banner only advertises
free-web space and its own presence on the Web. In opposition to the
Complainant's statements made in the complaint, the web provider's banner makes
no mention of products or services for sale. By holding such views, Complainant
challenges the integrity and existence in the internet of all non-profit
associations without source of income, who benefit of free hosting services.
With such views, the Complainant challenges the integrity of its own
organization as at least one of its websites is hosted by Tripod (http://sahajbangalore.tripod.com/)
and displays commercial banners.
The Respondent's legitimate interest in the sahaja-yoga.org website is to
provide information on Sahaja Yoga. Thanks to our thorough expertise on the
subject, we provide the answers to questions that people concerned or interested
by Sahaja Yoga cannot find in the Complainant's sahajayoga.org and other
websites. We see our presence on the Web as a community service, allowing
visitors to initiate direct e-mail contact with Sahaja Yoga ex-members, thereby
benefiting from our many years experience and practice of Sahaja Yoga. Needless
to say, our efforts are entirely free of charge.
Respondent points out that in paragraph 41 of the Complaint, Complainant wrote: "When an internet user searches for Complainant's service mark, it
may find - in addition to the Complainant's own official Website - the
Respondents Website address. There is nothing in the domain name "sahaja-yoga.org"
to indicate that the site is devoted to criticism of the Complainant".
Complainant appears to be laboring under a misapprehension - search results show
primarily the title of the found items, followed by a description and finally by
the domain name, generally mentioned in smaller characters. Altavista's search
instructions confirm: "In the ranking
rules that determine which pages will appear near the top of a list of matches,
the HTML title is the most important element of the page." The HTML
title of the Respondent's website allows no misunderstanding and is
contradicting evidence to Complainants allegations that the Respondent indulged
into misleading and diverting visitors to their site: <TITLE>Sahaja Yoga:
Facts and Warnings from Ex-Members</TITLE>
The Complainant associates these free-of-charge informative services with an
attempt by the Respondent to tarnish the Complainant's «service mark», Sahaja
Yoga. As shown in our replies to the various email correspondence prior to these
administrative proceedings, the Respondent repeatedly encouraged in good faith
the Complainant to report any inaccuracies found in the Respondent's website.
Furthermore, manifesting its openness to constructive criticism, the
Respondent's website provides a link to a discussion forum where all opinions on
the Sahaja Yoga subject are shared. Moreover, the Respondent proposed on
different occasions to Sahaja Yoga officials the mutual linking of both
websites. Unfortunately the Complainant has chosen to ignore Respondent's
invitations. The Respondent's aim, to the sole benefit of the people interested
by Sahaja Yoga, is to go beyond the Complainant's restricted information. After
inviting the Complainant to constructive criticism, Respondent should not be
held responsible for the consequences caused by Complainant's lack of
transparency and unwillingness to engage in a constructive exchange.
Respondent has demonstrated its rights and legitimate interest in the Domain
Name, in accordance with ICANN Policy's paragraph 4c.
The disputed domain name was registered by the Respondent on October 18, 1999
nearly a year before the Complainant's «service mark» registration on August
The Respondent's domain name <sahaja-yoga.org> was not acquired with the
aim of making financial profit, nor has the Respondent engaged in a pattern of
conduct preventing the Complainant from reflecting its «service mark's»
presence in the many other domain names the Complainant has chosen.
The Respondent has never advertised his <sahaja-yoga.org> domain name in a
way that would be misleading to internet users. In newsgroups, e-mail and
advertising material, whenever mentioned, not only is the domain name always
followed by its html title, but the textual background clearly, and without room
for misunderstanding, anticipates the website's contents.
Respondent also points out that in paragraph 26 of the Complaint, Complainant
correctly qualifies as candid our "good-faithed" disposition in this
matter: the <sahaja-yoga.org> domain name was chosen as the available
choice for the ex-members' non-profit organization aiming to inform on the
subject of Sahaja Yoga. The Respondent is making a legitimate non-commercial,
community service-oriented and fair use of the Domain Name. The Respondent's
aim, to the sole benefit of the people interested by Sahaja Yoga, is to provide
a larger spectrum of information than is available on Complainant's websites
According to Respondent paragraph 49 of the Complaint says more about the
Complainant's beliefs than the Respondent considers necessary to debate in these
administrative proceedings. Apologizing to the Panel for being drawn into
responding to what is not strictly relevant to the domain name dispute and that
failing to do so might be interpreted as an acceptance of the Complainant's
Complainant proposes much more than is described in its «service mark» i.e.
"conducting classes, workshops and seminars in the fields of techniques of
meditation, relaxation and self improvement". As it has been its policy for
the past 30 years, Complainant deliberately omits to convey that the purpose of
their teachings and meditation techniques is to get the individual, through an
elaborate and, in our opinion, manipulative belief system, to reach the
conclusion that Ms Srivastava, alias Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, (Venerable Great
Mother and Immaculate Goddess), is the Creator of the Universe, and that total
surrender to her is the uncompromising condition for reaching spiritual
enlightenment. A belief system which is in complete contradiction to the
original Sahaja Yoga.
As a result, the Complainant and its alleged «service mark» Sahaja Yoga, finds
itself listed as a "dangerous, apocalyptic cult" in different
parliamentary reports of European countries.
Sahaja Yoga deliberately prevents newcomers from accessing the very information
that can irreversibly affect their lives. Ex-members legitimately wish to fill
in those blanks, which are of the highest importance to any person interested in
Complainant's allegations as to the intentional similarity of websites are
simply absurd and, in our opinion, reflect the lack of arguments to comply with
condition 4(a)(iii) of ICANN Rules (bad faith). Indeed there are similarities
between the Respondent's website and that of the Complainant: the same
similarities with hundreds of thousands of websites containing frames, indexes, "What's
new" menus and flags for different languages. If such similarities had
been intentionally created to "lead
the reader into confusion" (paragraph 49 of the Complaint), why would
the Respondent be so inconsistent in its deception as to name, in bold and
central text the self-explanatory title: "Sahaja
Yoga: Facts & Warnings from Ex-Members" ?
In paragraph 45 of the Complaint, Complainant claims that the registration of
the disputed domain name was made in bad faith, merely because of the
Respondent's home address not bearing a number to the street, nor an accurate
telephone number. Complainant's representative has certainly not been made aware
of the different legal threats, letters of insult and intimidation, death
threats and more recently computer viruses the Respondent has been receiving
since its website's creation. These justify the Respondent's legitimate measures
of self-protection. To understand the context of this litigation, it should be
known that the individual initiatives of Sahaja Yoga ex-members to inform the
public via leaflets or through the media have been followed by legal harassment
or, in a specific case, threats of physical violence.
On the subject of anonymity (paragraphs 24 and 46 of the Complaint), in the
context of exiting a dangerous cult, it is understandable that most ex-members
behind the website agreed to submit their testimonials and reports to the
website on the condition that their identities remain unknown. As the website is
the result of a collective effort, to avoid a minority of identified individuals
being held responsible for the entire website, it has been the Respondent's
policy to protect its informants under the veil of anonymity. Ex-members are
entirely free, however, to expose their identity when replying to people
addressing the Ex-members network via e-mail.
Complainant's correspondence to the Respondent shows that it knows who the
people participating to the Respondent's website are: Complainant wrote "even
though we know most of these people who are writing these false articles against
Sahaja Yoga and their motives behind it, Shri Mataji has asked us not to mention
their names". To make an issue about anonymity is more evidence of the
Complainant's dearth of arguments to demonstrate bad faith.
Based on the above, Respondent is convinced that these administrative
proceedings are one more proof of the Complainant's strategy of harassment, with
the final aim as stated in their e-mail of February 26, 2001, to obtain the
removal of the Respondent's website contents.
Complainant already owns 17 similar domain names out of which only 2 are active.
Needless to say, other than its content, there is no evidence of interest for
the Complainant to own an 18th domain name with its «service mark».
Moreover, the following similar domain names do not belong to the Complainant.
We have contacted their owners: None appear to be subject to domain name
litigation procedures initiated by the Complainant.
- [5 more similar
domain names] belong to the Complainant's "direct competition", the
type of spiritual groups that Complainant has repeatedly characterized as
"devilish false gurus".
That the Complainant shows no concern in allowing 15 dead links to its
"service mark", and in not challenging other similar domain names,
reveals the falsehood and inconsistency of the concern expressed in paragraph 41
of the Complaint. Beyond the legalese, beyond the far-fetched claims of bad
faith and other weak argumentation, Complainant's only intention is to prevent
access to a critical voice, using the same ways and means as most fanatical
The purpose of the ICANN Policy is to prevent the misuse of the domain name
system by so-called cybersquatters interested in financial gain. The Respondent
has clearly shown, well before these proceedings, that money played no role in
the choice of the disputed domain name. It is the Respondent's belief, that the
ICANN Policy is being misused by the Complainants to reach its final goal of
silencing a critical website.
Respondent therefore states that there is no demonstrated evidence of
registration and use in bad faith of the disputed domain name.
Discussion and Findings
to paragraph 4(a) of the Policy, the Complainant must prove that
The Domain Name is identical or confusingly similar to a trade mark or service
mark in which the Complainant has rights; and
The Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the Domain
The Domain Name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.
the light of the Complainant’s attack leveled at the Respondent on the grounds
that the Respondent has filed false or incomplete information as to its identity
and address with the registrar, the Panel cannot ignore the point. Had the Panel
been persuaded that the Respondent’s purpose had been to make this
administrative procedure more difficult to administer, it might have weighed
with the Panel when considering the question of bad faith.
the Respondent has satisfied the Panel that that was not its purpose.
Furthermore, to the extent that information was incomplete, it has not
interfered with the administration of this Complaint. It has not interfered with
the communications between the parties or indeed between the parties and WIPO.
in the view of the majority of the Panel, before going into the discussion and
findings on the various issues, it is of utmost importance to appreciate and
answer the basic question whether an exclusivity and monopoly can be given to
any individual or a body, organization or society etc. in relation to the name
and concept in public domain, namely, <sahajayoga>.
literature on the concept of "Sahajayoga" indicates that this concept
perhaps came into existence from the Sahajayani Buddhist (who in their turn
inherited it from the Mahayana-Vajra Aiana Bhuddhist tradition) and also from
Tantrie Hattayoga and the Nathpanthi-Kanpathayogis.
is originally a Sanskrit word which means ‘having been born together’ and
thus something inwardly perceived or intuited along with one’s birth as a
human being - a sort of indwelling mystical principle of divine perception given
to man as his birthright and therefore, a natural and effortless heritage of
divinity ingrained in humanity.
concept "Sahajayoga" is also related to saint Kabir. He adopted
neither Hinduism nor Islam as his religion but incorporated what he regarded as
the best tenets of both and created his own, called "Sahaj-yoga"
("simple union"). From the Hindus, Kabir took reincarnation, for
instance, and from the Muslims, the belief in one God.
concept of taking tenets of both the religions i.e. Hinduism and Islam which was
the theme of saint Kabir’s (Sahajayoga), Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism
accepted and adopted the concept of Sahajayoga in Sikhism. The ordinary meaning
of Sahaj is "just in what it should be" or "just". According
to Guru Nanak ‘Sahaj’ means natural fulfilment.
the word ‘Sahajyoga’ is not only a descriptive Sanskrit word but is also a
concept dating back to Buddhism adopted by saint Kabir and then also taken up by
Guru Nanak in Sikhism. Accordingly, ‘Sahajayoga’ is such a common term
having descriptive meaning, becoming an important religious concept which has
not come into existence recently or in the year 1970 when the Complainant
adopted it. It would not, therefore, be permissible that any single person,
body, entity, organization or a society who can either claim or would be
entitled for grant of an exclusivity or monopoly on these words and concept of
the majority view of the Panel, the discussion and findings on the legal issues
should now be considered in this background and perspective.
or confusing similarity
the Complainant has to prove that it has rights in a trade mark or service mark.
Secondly, it has to show that the Domain Name is either identical to that trade
mark or service mark or is confusingly similar to it.
majority view of the Panel is that the dates are important. The domain name by
Respondent was registered on October 18, 1999. The registration of the service
mark by the Complainant with US Trade Mark and Patent Office is dated August 29,
2000. The Complainant has proved that it has a service mark registered at the
United States Patent & Trade Mark Office. The Respondent has leveled a
substantial attack on the validity of that registration, but the Panel cannot
look behind the registration. It is ill-equipped to do so. However, under these
circumstances, it would be just and fair to consider the challenge of the
Complainant to the registration of the disputed domain name of the Respondent as
on the date of its registration i.e. October 18, 1999.
Complainant being conscious of this position has given a fall back argument that
in case the registration of its service mark is not to be given weight the
registration of the disputed domain name of the Respondent, admittedly
registered on October 18, 1999, then the Complainant would certainly be entitled
to claim common law rights and plead passing off.
is sufficient force in this argument of the Complainant. In the majority view of
the Panel, it is a well established position in Common Law countries that
registration of any mark does not confer any new right upon the registrant. It
only give a statutory recognition to the rights of a person, which he already
possesses, in and/or in relation to any mark. It has been further judicially
accepted that in an action for passing off by a plaintiff, even the registration
which is being held by the defendant may not be a defence. Accordingly, even
when it is accepted that the Complainant is justified in claiming Common Law
right protection, it becomes imperative to find out whether the Complainant is
entitled to claim monopoly and/or exclusivity in the term and concept "SAHAJA
Policy does not call for registered rights. Unregistered or common law rights
will suffice. It is not in dispute that the Complainant has used the name Sahaja
Yoga since 1970. That the Respondent acknowledges that it is the name of the
Complainant and the name by which the Complainant is known and recognised is
evident from the manner in which the Respondent uses the name Sahaja Yoga on its
website and indeed in its own name.
Panel finds that the domain name of the Respondent is identical or confusingly
similar to a trade mark or service mark in which the Complainant has some rights
but which cannot be exclusive.
or legitimate interest of the Respondent
the Panel (by a majority) has arrived to the conclusion that the term and
concept "SAHAJA YOGA" is completely descriptive and in which no person
would be entitled to claim exclusivity, the contention of the parties would
deserve to be considered in the light of this conclusion. Since the Complainant
would not be entitled to claim exclusivity, the following contentions raised by
the Respondent will gain strength and legitimacy:
Since "SAHAJA YOGA" is descriptive falling in common domain name and
which existed at least 500 years before the Complainant decided to claim its
ownership, the Respondent was not obliged to seek any permission from the
Respondent's domain name was not chosen to be identified as the Complainant's
organisation. The title of the Respondent's - "Sahaja Yoga: Facts and
Warnings from Ex-Members" is self-explanatory and leads to no
The allegation of the Complainant that the Respondent has indirect financial
interest by the fact that the sahaja-yoga.org website is hosted by Tripod, a
free web-space provider, is a far fetched argument inasmuch as Tripod's banner
only advertises free-web space and its own presence on the web. By raising such
contention the Complainant not only challenges the integrity and existence in
the internet of all non-profit association without source of income, who benefit
from free hosting services but the Complainant also challenges the integrity of
its own organisation as at least one of its websites is hosted by Tripod and
displays commercial banners.
The Respondent's legitimate interest in its website is to provide information on
Sahaja Yoga. It provides the answer to the question that people concerned or
interested by Sahaja Yoga cannot find it in other websites including the website
of the Complainant. Its services are free of charge.
The Respondent repeatedly encourages in good faith the Complainant to report any
inaccuracies found in the Respondent's website. Further more, manifesting its
openness to constructive criticism, the Respondent's website provide a link to a
discussion from where all opinions on the Sahaja Yoga subject are shared.
a majority, the Panel, therefore, finds that the Respondent has legitimate
interest in the disputed domain name.
Decision (by a majority)
view of the above, the Complaint is dismissed.