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Court freezes lawscot.co.uk, owner claims unfair trial

Scottish Law Society tries to reverse hijack legal portal

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The Law Society of Scotland is attempting to reverse hijack the domain www.lawscot.co.uk, claiming that its current owner, Mr Tommy Butler, is "passing off" and wrongly receiving private and confidential emails.

Mr Butler and the UK domain arbitrator Nominet have both been served with a 10-page court order, suspending the domain until the court has reached a decision.

However, Mr Butler is determined to fight the case, claiming that not only are the grounds against him false but that the problem has been created by the Society's own doing.

Mr Butler also claims his rights under EU law are being infringed since a request for the case to be heard in an English court has been refused. The problem lies in the fact that both Mr Butler's solicitor and the judge in any case will be members of the Society itself. Not only that but the Society's solicitors previously represented Mr Butler is a disconnected case. All parties claim there is no conflict of interests.

The Society has also so far failed to comply with a request to hand over any material mentioning the lawscot.co.uk site under the Data Protection Act.

The Law Society's claims that Mr Butler is "passing off" are likely to hold little water since Mr Butler registered the domain in November 1999, and the word "lawscot" is a generic name. Equally, the assertion that he is wrongly receiving emails intended for the Society are undermined by the fact that the Society has falsely advertised Mr Butler's domain and email address as it own on its own website at www.lawscot.org.uk and in its journal of December 1999.

Mr Butler has promised to forward on wrongly addressed emails without looking at any details and claims to have spoken to some of the senders, many of whom have said they found the email address from the Society's own site.

The Society's case therefore rests on the trademark "lawscot" that it applied for in September 2001 and which was registered in March this year.

That action was long after Mr Butler claims the Society approached him with a view to buying to the domain. He refused on several occasions since he intends to build a legal portal on the domain, linking to several other generic legal domains he possesses.

In Mr Butler's eyes, the court order is far more malicious than simple concern on the Society's part. "Why is it that they have gone straight to court rather than through Nominet - which is what everyone else uses in domain disputes?" he asked us. "And how come is that if this trademark is so important that neither lawscot.org or lawscot.com or lawscot.net have been approached? Is it something to do with the fact that out of all of them, I'm the only one that isn't a lawyer?"

Is it hard to see this case as anything but a heavy-handed attempt by the Scottish Law Society to get hold of a domain that it wants. Unfortunately, it is less keen on answering questions put to it about the case.

"We don't want to prejudice the trial," a spokeswoman told us. "It's an ongoing situation and so we can't go into it at this moment." ®

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