In a decision which underlines that protest websites have a legitimate place on the internet – no matter how damaging they may be for those on the receiving end of criticism – an accountancy firm has failed to shut down a web domain despite arguing that it is nothing more than a ‘forum to defame’.
The firm complained to internet dispute resolution service, Nominet, that the website – the URL of which conjoined the firm’s name with the additional word, ‘complaints’ – had been registered in ‘bad faith’, that it threatened to confuse its potential clients and was gravely damaging its trading reputation.
Lawyers representing the firm denied that there was any basis for the criticisms published on the website – which they attacked as seriously defamatory – and argued that the firm’s business was being unfairly disrupted.
However, the man who had registered the domain in another’s name, said that he had established the website in order to ‘name and shame’ the firm and to attract comment from visitors in a way that was entirely proper.
The Nominet expert appointed to resolve the dispute refused to direct the domain name’s transfer to the firm, ruling that the use of the protest website was ‘legitimate and fair’. He emphasised that it was no part of his task to decide whether any of the criticisms of the firm posted on the website were ‘founded in reality’.
Although the website was undoubtedly ‘intended to disrupt’ the firm’s business, the expert noted that he had ‘no way of knowing if this would necessarily be considered ‘unfair disruption’. The website clearly stated that it was not owned by or associated with the firm and it was difficult to see how internet users would be confused.
The expert added that the ‘additional component’ of the word ‘complaints’ in the URL had the effect of making clear the website’s purpose. “The website located using the domain name is operated solely in criticism of (the firm) and, based on that, I decide that the domain name is being used legitimately and fairly and is not an abusive registration,” he concluded.