Oxford Uni unearths 800-year-old document to seize domain names

Oh no you did-unt

The University of Oxford has gone all medieval over some dot-com domain names, insisting that it be handed control of oxfordcollegeirl.com and oxfordcollegesc.com due to rights dating back to 1214 A.D.

A panelist at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) agreed, although his job was made easier by the fact that the current owners of the domains, Oxford College for PhD Studies, didn’t bother to respond to the complaint.

It is debatable whether the University of Oxford has the right to the domains even though "in the year 1214 the body of Masters and Scholars at Oxford was placed under the jurisdiction of a Chancellor, to be appointed by the Bishop of Lincoln" and the institution has a variety of "Oxford" trademarks.

But the world-famous learning institution was no doubt driven to press its rights when it saw what appears on the websites.

While the "Oxford College for PhD studies" purports to offer a whole range of courses, and prominently features people receiving degrees, it goes to some lengths to explain – in fancy language – that it is basically a sham.

"We neither issue nor do we in any way hold ourselves out to or purport to issue any degrees, statements, or pronouncements of any type or description which might be taken to be or otherwise interpreted as educational award or scholastic approbation, and nor do we intend to at any juncture," the website reads.

Not exactly affiliated with the University of Oxford you may have heard about


As for that degree, don’t mistake it for an academic degree of any sort. It is "conferred as a way of honouring a distinguished visitor's contributions to a specific field or to society in general." And its value? "The degree is not recognised by employers as having the same stature as a corresponding earned doctorate degree and should not be represented as such."

Despite the wordy efforts to avoid liability, the University of Oxford was not impressed by the company – seemingly based in Ireland – trying to profit from its name, and so came in all guns blazing.

The panelist, Tobias Malte Müller, decided to largely overlook the addition of "irl" and "sc" on the end of the "oxfordcollege" domains, claiming that the domains "wholly incorporate the Complainant's trademark and the addition respectively of the descriptive elements "collegeirl" and "collegesc" does not serve to distinguish the disputed domain names from the OXFORD trademarks."

"It is the view of this Panel that the addition of the element 'sc' results to be a common typographical error when typing 'colleges.com,' while the addition of the element 'irl' refers to Ireland, which is where the Respondent is based. Both added elements will therefore be understood to be a reference to a satellite or associated college of the Complainant in Ireland. In any case both do not serve to distinguish the disputed domain names."

Which is, of course, nonsense. But the owner of the domains seemingly didn’t want to pick a fight with the university that it's carefully riding on the back of.

As things stand, the websites are still up, but they will shortly be handed over to the University of Oxford, which will presumably add them to the long list of domain names it holds and does nothing with in an effort to stop people profiting from its name. ®

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