What do Rolex, Brad Pitt and Llanwrthwl have in common?
A. Domain name angst
A Glaswegian entrepreneur last week netted £25,000 for the sale of one gambling domain name. Mark Dale ditched his Mini Metro for a Porsche after the URL was snapped up by an Internet bookie. The 26-year-old had bought the domain www.bettingservice.com for £70 the previous year. Dale's story is one of many littering the press amid the cyber frenzy. People are paying big bucks for everyday dot-com addresses that could pull Internet traffic. Dale owns 150 such URLs which he hopes to sell at a profit -- and presumably collect a whole fleet of sports cars along the way. And he may be in luck, as silly season is upon us. Last month a Leeds playboy coughed up $700,000 for cinema.com, which he hopes to turn into an online movie site. And in November A Texan entrepreneur sold business.com for $7.5 million, netting him a cool 5,000 per cent profit. But efforts to pre-buy the Web can also backfire. Individuals using company trademarks and names in URLs have recently found themselves in hot water. "Cybersquatters" have become the scourge of the Web for celebrities and multinationals alike. Just because your name is on a birth certificate doesn't mean you own the URL. Alex Ferguson, David Beckham, Michael Schumacher and Jeremy Paxman have all discovered domains registered with their names but without their knowledge. Megastar Brad Pitt is reported to be suing the individual responsible for registering bradpitt.com And just because you live in a village or city doesn't mean you have any rights to the URL belonging to it. The name london.com is owned by a New York company. And residents of Llanwrthwl, a village in mid-Wales, were mortified when they went to register llanwrthwl.co.uk and found a company had beaten them to it. They saw the move as a "hijacking of a precious part of our identity". The BBC last week went as far as the High Court to block a British man's attempts to sell BBC1.com and BBC2.com. It said the action was taken on the basis of "trademark infringement, passing off and breach of contract". The Staffordshire man, Stephen Taylor, wasn't trying to blackmail the Beeb – he didn't mind who bought the sites. But he was seen as a cybersquatter and forced to hand over the domains. Rough Trademarks Companies are very protective about their brand names. Darling of the City Lastminute.com has forced companies wanting to call themselves lastminute.com plc and lastminute.co.uk limited to change their names. The cyber-world has developed so fast that the normal rules of trademark conduct have been twisted. After all, the French have been throwing merde in the direction of anyone trying to call fizzy wine "champagne" for years. The latest dispute in the UK is Rolex, which is currently threatening a Lancashire jeweller with legal action over a domain name fracas. Brittons of Nelson – which specialises in second-hand watches - owns several URLs covering makes such as Omega and Cartier, but Rolex is getting heavy. A representative of Clifford Chance, Rolex's law firm, said: "It objects to third parties registering domain names which include the Rolex trade mark as part of the name." In an interview with The Guardian Brittons say it has received legal advice that it would win any case in court. However, it says it could be bankrupted by fighting Rolex. That's easy then: all it has to do is hand over the domain names to Rolex, and then it can get back to its business of selling jewellery. Meanwhile, Network Solutions reckons that more than nine million domain names have been registered in the world to date. Registrations with the company averaged one every five seconds for the fourth quarter of 1999. ® Related stories Full coverage Cyber Squatting London police in URL ownership row Porno cybersquatters target Intel