Just a few months out from Australia’s Federal Elections the Liberal National Party’s (LNP) Queensland arm has committed a spectacular political blunder by allowing their website domain name registration to lapse.
Brisbane intellectual property lawyer Nicole Murdoch says the domain name LNP.com.au has now been registered by another legitimate business with no political links, which effectively means the domain name could be licensed to and used by a political enemy of the LNP.
Ms Murdoch, Principal with Brisbane boutique Intellectual Property and Privacy law firm EAGLEGATE Lawyers, says with Australia approaching a hotly contested election, website domain names will be used as a powerful tool for advertising.
“Having a domain name that corresponds directly to the name of your political rival would be a coup for any of the other parties. The issue now is how it might be used to embarrass the LNP and why it was left to drop in the first place.”
She says the LNP, which also uses the domain name LNP.org.au, could likely have renewed the LNP.com.au domain for as little as $25 but can’t do so now after the registration lapsed and was sold on an online auction site,
“It’s now quite feasible that Labor or Clive Palmer or Pauline Hanson could seek to approach the new owner to use the domain name for their own campaigning purposes.”
Describing the LNP’s blunder as a spectacular fail, Ms Murdoch says it’s an expensive lesson for all who need to protect and control their trade marks.
“The new owner reserved the domain to use it. However it could be sold eventually or it could be licenced to another person to use.
“The first and primary rule is never let the domain name that corresponds to the name everyone knows you by, or which corresponds to your trade mark expire and thus become eligible for other traders to register. This is online trade mark protection 101,” she says.
Domain names within the .au domain space are governed by a system of eligibility rules. These rules govern who can and cannot register the various second level domains in the .au space.
She says .com.au domain names can be registered by any Australian eligible person meeting a set criteria.
“If you let the domain name drop your opposition might register it and use the domain name to divert traffic and business that would have gone to you, to it”.
She says worse, the new owner or licensee could use the domain name as a tool to embarrass you or post negative content about you. Whilst there are tools available to the trader to stop those actions, they may not be successful.
This is the nightmare now facing the LNP.
The LNP is unlikely to successfully win a dispute against the new registrant given that Domain Names can be an acronym of a number of businesses and can stand for just about anything. That would give the Registrant a legitimate interest in the Domain Name and would thwart any transfer attempt.
Former US President Bill Clinton famously found himself in exactly that position many years ago where others reserved his Domain Names and he failed in his attempts to retrieve the Domain Names.
“The LNP will now be desperately hoping the domain LNP.com.au does not become a campaign weapon used against them,” Ms Murdoch says.