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More corporate domain name bullying

This time it's American shopping network QVC

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The clean sweep of fat, rich companies in domain name ownership (thanks mostly to WIPO) has given them unjustifiable confidence in their own omnipotence. How else could you explain the fact that American cable company QVC believes it has the right to the URL www.n7qvc.com.

Well of course it does! After all, the letters Q, V and C are run concurrently in the URL aren't they? Anyone going to n7qvc.com would automatically expect to be directed to QVC's Web site, wouldn't they? Well that what the company's lawyer seems to think. That's why he sent Tony Peterson a nasty email stating that his "unauthorized use of n7qvc.com is an infringement of the QVC marks. That is, your use of n7qvc.com is likely to cause the public to believe that you are sponsored or approved in some way by our client. In addition, your use of n7qvc.com constitutes false advertising, because it misrepresents the nature, characteristics, qualities and origin of your commercial activities." Etc, etc, etc - you know the drill.

To be fair, Tony's site had been hacked and redirected to a porn site when the lawyer most likely looked at it, but still, what right has QVC got to the domain? The situation also demonstrates what a lot of large companies are doing at the moment to deal with domain disputes - there are getting notification of any new domains registered with their name in the URL and then firing out threatening emails to any that aren't also run by large corporates. Anyone else find this a little worrying?

The crunch though is that QVC picked on the wrong bloke. Tony had registered n7qvc.com because he's a keen radio ham and his call sign is - you guessed it - n7qvc. The site is a homepage, mostly concerning Tony's love of amateur radio. Even WIPO would have a hard time deciding in QVC's favour.

And sure enough, when this fact was pointed out to QVC - with the not-unsubstantial support of other radio hams - the lawyer backed down as fast as you could say "bullying corporate scum". Not that he got an apology. "While we find nothing objectionable about the manner of use of the QVC mark in your domain name," the second email said, "nevertheless, as the owner of a highly distinctive radio call sign and domain name yourself, I am sure you can understand the care with which we monitor QVC's brand identity. In order to resolve this matter, relying upon your representation that your use of the letters QVC in your domain name are used only for your personal use, and not for commercial activities that would create the impression that you are affiliated or connected with QVC Inc in any way, we will take no further action."

We're tempted to say: Tony can do whatever the hell he wants with the URL cause it's nothing to do with power-crazed QVC. But we won't.

At what point did companies buy the rights to commonsense?

Incidentally, the sordid history of domain names has become so extensive that someone has seen fit to write a book about it. Caught in a Web, Intellectual Property in Cyberspace covers the "growing trend" in companies pushing their weight around unjustifiably. We've asked for a review copy, so if it's any good, we'll knock up a story on it. ®

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