- The German unit of the Italian maker of popular nougat treat Nutella has forced the owners of the domain names Gnutella.de and Newtella.de to stop using their sites, partly from concerns that the peer-to-peer technology the sites promote will damage the company's global image.
Gnutella, pronounced the same as the bread spread, is a file-sharing protocol that allows Internet users to search the Web for everything from music to photos. It has widely been seen as an alternative to Napster, the popular file-sharing network that has been sued by the world's big music groups and faces a courtroom hearing on Friday that could potentially shut it down.
At sweets maker Ferrero's request, a Cologne court said Gnutella.de owner Lars Gollnow had infringed on the company's trademark and ordered him to stop using his domain on Feb. 19. Ferrero's lawyers then presented the ruling to Tobias Jülke, owner of Newtella.de. The lawyers said they would not bring a lawsuit against him if he took his site offline immediately, which he did in order to avoid expensive legal proceedings, Julke said.
Ferrero, the third-biggest producer of sweets worldwide after Nestlé SA and Mars, also said in a Jan. 17 court filing that it faced potential damage to its public image if "millions of Internet users would associate the word 'Nutella' with a virtual conglomerate of copyright pirates and friends of child pornography, rather than the family-friendly nougat spread."
The court filing was quoted on the German news service Heise Online.
Original documentation for Gnutella suggest that Ferrero has a point in its suspicion that the similarity of the names is no accident. Gnutella is a combination of the brand name Nutella and GNU, an acronym for the free operating system on which Linux is based. Some original documentation lists one of Gnutella's "primary benefits" as "sexy product name makes you hungry with cravings for chocolaty love."
Not all Gnutella promoters are bending to the company, however. Martin Brenner, who owns the Knutella.de, Knutella.org, Knutella.net and Knutella.co.uk domains, has published a letter from Ferrero's lawyers on his Web site. "I won't let Ferrero intimidate myself so easily," he said in an e-mail interview, though he conceded that he probably couldn't afford a lawsuit.
At the moment, only German domain holders seem to have been contacted by Ferrero. It is unclear how or if the company wants to proceed internationally.
Frankfurt-based Ferrero was not available for comment.