Contrary to popular belief, the Internet is not a free for all and christening websites in breach of others’ rights can have serious consequences. In one case, luxury car makers BMW and Rolls Royce came down hard on an entrepreneur who registered a string of web domains which incorporated their names.
The businessman ran a network of more than 70 car and motorcycle clubs which he said had more than 15,000 members worldwide. He insisted that he was driven not by profit but by his passion for vehicles. However, the car manufacturers objected when he registered a stable of 11 domain names, all but two of which featured the trade marked BMW, Mini or Rolls Royce names.
In their complaint to Internet watchdog Nominet, they said that the businessman had offered to sell them various domain names, associated websites and a trade mark for £440,000. He later dropped that price to £75,000 and said that he would waive payment if he was given a car, or cars, to the same value.
He claimed that the car companies had implicitly condoned his activities by sending him promotional literature and inviting him to a champagne reception at the Paris Motor Show. It was well known that many car clubs are run by enthusiasts and he denied there was any possibility of Internet surfers being confused.
However, in upholding the manufacturers’ complaint, a Nominet expert noted that the businessman’s websites bore a wide range of ‘pay per click’ advertising and found that he had endeavoured to run them as a significant commercial enterprise. He had clearly been willing to sell the domain names for significant sums of money.
It was difficult to see why a genuine enthusiasts’ club might legitimately require such a large number of domain names and, in those circumstances, the expert ruled that they were abusive registrations in the businessman’s hands. He directed the transfer of the disputed domain names to the car manufacturers.