A property investor who built up reputation and goodwill in a website that he used to market a luxury apartment for rent in Gleneagles, the home of golf, has triumphed in a dispute with a rival owner of another flat in the town who registered a ‘confusingly similar’ internet domain name.
John Hunter and Brendan Crozier both owned apartments in the same development in Gleaneagles village, and rented them out to the public. Mr Hunter had since 2007 advertised his flat using his gleneaglesapartment.co.uk website. In January 2012, Mr Crozier registered the domain name gleneaglesapartments.co.uk which was identical to Mr Hunter’s apart from the final ‘s’.
Mr Hunter took his complaint to Nominet, the body that polices domain names in the UK, alleging that Mr Crozier was piggy-backing on his goodwill and intentionally setting out to confuse potential clients. A Nominet expert upheld the complaint and directed Mr Crozier to hand over his domain name to Mr Hunter.
Mr Hunter had argued that Mr Crozier’s website was a ‘clear attempt to disrupt his business’. Describing his flat as having been renovated and maintained ‘to a high standard’, enjoying a 4 star rating from the Scottish Tourist Board, he said that he feared his reputation could be ‘unjustly harmed’.
Mr Crozier’s website could put him in a ‘damaging and embarrassing situation’ with clients who might be ‘duped’ into thinking the two flats were connected, argued Mr Hunter. He said potential customers could be confused into renting Mr Crozier’s flat, rather than his own, causing him substantial financial loss.
Mr Crozier responded that his domain name used common English and accurately described his legitimate business. He said that he had no connection with Mr Hunter and denied that his rival had a sole right to use the name, or variants of it. He said that anyone visiting the two websites ‘would have been able to tell them apart instantly’.
Ruling in favour of Mr Hunter, however, the Nominet expert said that he had established goodwill and a reputation in his domain name and concluded, on the balance of probabilities, that Mr Crozier ‘would have been well aware’ of Mr Hunter and his website when he registered his own domain name.
The expert found that Mr Crozier had specifically chosen to register the domain name to stop, or block, Mr Hunter from doing so and to benefit from his reputation and goodwill by attracting to his own website browsers looking for Mr Hunter’s.
Observing that the two domain names were ‘substantial identical’, the expert concluded: “Mr Crozier, by using the domain name in this way, has taken unfair advantage of Mr Hunter’s rights by seeking to rely on Mr Hunter’s goodwill and reputation in the name to generate web traffic to his website and, by doing so, diverting potential customers of Mr Hunter to Mr Crozier.” The expert ruled that Mr Crozier’s domain name was ‘an abusive registration’ in his hands and directed its transfer to Mr Hunter.