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Someone Purchased “” to Redirect Traffic to York University’s Strike Page. Did They Break Any Laws?

UPDATE (MARCH 15 2018):   I have updated this post.  When I wrote the original March 6 2018 post, I was discussing how a website with the domain “” was purchased in 2015 and used to redirect people to York University’s strike website.  On March 6, the site redirected to Google’s home page.  However, today (March 15) I noticed that once again the URL redirected to York’s 2018 strike website.  Therefore, I revised the post to speak in present terms as opposed to discussing something that happened in 2015.   


March 15 2018

You are probably aware that CUPE 3903, which represents contract teachers and TAs at York University, is on strike over job security issues and yorkworking conditions.  This post considers a very narrow but interesting legal question arising from this strike.

I was directed to a Twitter strand recently that alleged that York University purchased the domain name during the last strike in 2015 and used the website to redirect students to a York controlled website on which the employer posted information about the strike.

I have no way of verifying who purchased the domain name back in 2015 because there is a privacy shield blocking that information.  It could have been York University as a deliberate and provocative labour relations strategy, or it could have been some other person or entity up to mischief.   A lawyer can (and may) uncover who purchased the domain name, but for the purposes of this blog entry, let’s treat the potential legal issues as a hypothetical scenario.

When I searched CUPE3093 last week, I was redirected to Google’s home page.  However, through the magic of time machine websites, it was possible to go back and see where used to redirect visitors Until recently, if you visited, you got redirected to this York University website (this is a screen capture from 2016 of the page to which you were directed if you visited  The page is a York webpage that includes a written letter from the previous York President announcing the end of the 2015 strike.

Today (March 15), I just happened to hit the link and, wouldn’t you know it, someone once again changed the redirect back to York University’s website about the strike.   Try it yourself.  On this website, York has posted information for students, and you can also find a link to a document York circulated called Memorandum on a Path Forward in which York explains that CUPE 3903′s unreasonable demands are to blame for the strike.  So, to recap, someone searching the name of the union and finding “” is immediately redirected to a website controlled by the employer where the employer blames the union for the strike.

Is It Unlawful for an Employer to Create a Website Using the Union’s Name?

I assume from the Twitter feed that it was not CUPE 3903 (the actual union) that purchased the domain name.   Certainly it wouldn’t make any sense for CUPE to be redirecting people to a York University website.  Therefore, as noted above, it appears that some other entity purchased the domain name, presumably with the intention of confusing or at least redirecting people searching for “CUPE 3903″ to another website controlled by York University.

I’m no intellectual property law expert, but I’m fairly certain that the tort of “passing off” or trademark infringement are engaged when a third party registers a domain name that exactly copies the name of an existing union for the purpose of redirecting people looking for that union to a third party website.  (See Chapter 32 of The Law of Work for a discussion of the tort of passing off and trademark law in the employment context and also this article by Professor Scassa on “IP on the Cyber-Picket Line“ (Hat-tip Ben Oliphant)).  Any IP lawyers want to chime in on that point? 

Would such behaviour amount to an unfair labour practice?

Since this is a blog on work law, let’s focus on the labour law angle of this “hypothetical” fact scenario.   The scenario is this:  During collective bargaining and a work stoppage, an employer purchases a website that directly appropriates the name of the union with which it is bargaining, and then redirects all traffic going to that website to an employer controlled website that provides information about the strike and bargaining through the employer’s viewpoint.

Would that conduct run afoul of any labour laws?

Two possibilities jump immediately to mind.  Firstly, the union could argue that this behaviour constitutes unlawful “interference with the administration of the union”.   As examined in Chapter 40 to The Law of Work, this law prevents unionized employers from behaving in ways that interfere with or undermine the union’s efforts to represent employees.  The key provision in Ontario is found at Section 70 of the Labour Relations Act.

I’m not aware of a case with identical facts to our scenario, but my gut feeling is that a labour board would be very concerned about an employer that misappropriates the union’s name in order to redirect people searching on-line for the union to an employer controlled website.  A reasonable person would expect that a website called is controlled by CUPE 3903 and not the employer engaged in bargaining with that union. The employer’s intent here would be to deceive, and to direct people away from the union’s messaging and towards the employer’s messaging.  This is actually what is happening in the York situation (although, again, I have no evidence that it is York that purchased the domain name or created the redirect to York’s website).  Do you think such behaviour would amount to interference with the administration of CUPE 3903?

The second possibility is that the employer’s behaviour violates the duty to bargain in good faith and to make reasonable efforts to conclude a collective agreement (Section 17 of the OLRA).    I do not think it is a stretch to argue that the employer is acting dishonestly and in bad faith by purchasing a website that directly appropriates the union’s name for the purpose of redirecting people away from the union’s messaging in collective bargaining.  Honesty and good faith are cornerstones of the duty to bargain, and an employer using this tactic could in my opinion be acting contrary to the spirit of the duty.

Quite apart from the legality of the tactic, an employer that misappropriates the union’s name in order to advance its interest in bargaining is certainly poisoning the bargaining climate.  The employer must certainly know that this would anger the union and its supporters and so the move is provocative to say the least.  I wonder how the employer in our scenario would react to the union purchasing a website that appropriates the employer’s name and then using that website to redirect visitors to the union’s website?

Issues for Discussion

Do you think a labour board would find that an employer who creates a website using the union’s name and then redirect traffic to the employer’s website is violating labour relations legislation?

If there are any IP lawyers out there, please chime in.  Is it unlawful for an employer to purchase a domain name that directly appropriates the name of a union?







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