When Harrods comes calling - and the shelf is bare

Harrods of London, having recently won a controversial court decision giving it the right to take the Internet domain harrods.com from its registered owner, has sought to do the same thing here - but it might as well not have bothered.

Harrods of London, having recently won a controversial court decision giving it the right to take the Internet domain harrods.com from its registered owner, has sought to do the same thing here - but it might as well not have bothered.

Peter Belt, who registered harrods.co.nz to his Private DNS Company in September of last year, last week received a letter from the Wellington law firm A.J. Park and Son, acting for Harrods, accusing him of "civil conspiracy" and calling on him to surrender or transfer the domain.

Ironically, Harrods could have saved itself a bit of money. Belt, who registered the domain to make a point, rather than to make business use of it, did not pay his annual registration fee. As part of an ISOCNZ drive to get rid of slow payers, harrods.co.nz has just been deleted from the New Zealand DNS. Belt was unaware that the domain had been deleted until Computerworld informed him that the name no longer appeared in the registry database.

"That makes it even better, really, doesn't it?" said Belt. "I'd be happy to help register it for them - for only $186 including GST!"

Belt has now notified A.J. Park and Son informing the firm that harrods.co.nz is not registered to himself or anyone - and offering to register it for the well-known client.

Belts says he originally registered the name in part because he felt ISOCNZ should not have abdicated itself from the responsibility to vet applications to register domain names when it took over management of the DNS last year.

"Basically what used to happen is that unless he knew and trusted you, Rex Croft at Waikato required you to give some documentary evidence, or at least a phone number he could call back, to show that you were in a position to register that name. When ISOCNZ took over the Registry, they dropped those checks - probably for cost and liability reasons.

"What happened next was that the Domain Name Company had that high-profile altercation with Cadbury's and from there things went backwards. The argument is now that we're onselling fourth-level domain names as well, is what happens when we register harrods.tm.co.nz? Do they claim that? And the equivalents under the new generic top-level domains? It'll never end."

Bernadette Jew, an intellectual property specialist with Russell McVeagh, says the Harrods decision "was just par for the course with the way NSI (Network Solutions Inc, the US based company which handles registry services) are running their domain names in the US - trademarks just rule everything. It doesn't matter what sort of reputation you develop anywhere else, NSI say show us a trademark and we'll take the domain name off the other party immediately.

"That contrasts very strongly with ISOCNZ's policy, which is hands-off - sort it out yourselves. ISOCNZ's never got into that and that's a good thing."

Jew cites the case of Clue Computing - a firm which had built up a very strong reputation selling software on the Internet, yet was was forced by NSI to relinquish its domain to Hasbro, which had trademarked the name Clue.

"I think that's a very good illustration of the issue. In this country the party which wanted its name would have to go to court and present a case - and I think that's appropriate. I totally support ISOCNZ's stand.

"Harrods is an obvious case, but there are many more which aren't and ISOCNZ is just not qualified to make judgement as to whether someone has a better to a name than someone else. I think a lot of them would like to change that policy - they're incredibly regulatory-minded in ISOCNZ, but they won't."

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