Space – the final frontier for online domains

Space

The corporate might of Disney has triumphed in a 10-year cyberspace battle for the ownership of starwars.co.uk and other online domains connected to the galactic movie franchise.

Lucasfilm, the originators of the Star Wars franchise launched a fight to win the war in virtual space after a fancy dress retailer Abscissa registered the addresses to sell merchandise related to the movies in Britain.

However, Lucasfilm – now owned by Disney – struck back with a legal challenge against the firm, who they claimed were cyber-sitting on their intellectual property for financial gain.

Both sides entered the fray, and this time the rebels were defeated after domain registry Nominet called them to a hearing to sort out who the rightful owner should be.

Disney has a fierce reputation for tackling perceived infringements of intellectual copyright and has the money and an army of lawyers to back their claims. They have exercised their intellectual rights in courts many times in recent years.

Feeling the force

Nominet were swayed by the force of Disney’s arguments and ordered starwars.co.uk and six other similar domain names should be transferred to Disney.

Brand owners are protective of their logos and names because they are important for attracting online users to their web sites through paid and organic searches through Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines.

They argue that some rogue traders pass off their products and services as those of the brand, but often customers are buying cheap ‘knock offs’ or substandard goods posing as the genuine article.

This was not part of the argument Disney had with Abscissa.

Registering a domain name such as starwars.co.uk is not illegal – but brand owners argue the way the name is used damages their intellectual property.

Diverting web traffic

More importantly, a competitor can snatch web traffic away from a brand by keyword marketing, which can affect sales and profits.

Cybersquatters often register brand keyword domains and hold the corporation wanting to wrestle back control to ransom.

To regain a domain, the brand has three points to prove:

  • A right to the name
  • The domain owner has no rights to the name
  • The registration is an abusive registration used in bad faith

The first indication a brand is chasing a domain name is a formal letter requesting that any abusive use should stop and the domain should be handed over.

If the parties disagree, the domain registrar can intervene but the loser can appeal the result and go to court if necessary.

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