With Australia going to the polls on May 18, Brisbane intellectual property and cyber security lawyer Nicole Murdoch is challenging the political parties to fully grasp the reality that the hustings now are on line in cyberspace, not at the local hall.
She says parties that embrace new technology such as website domains, social media pages, electronic mail outs and the like will have an edge in election campaigns in the 21`st Century.
Ms Murdoch, Principal with Brisbane boutique Intellectual Property and Privacy law firm EAGLEGATE Lawyers, says securing any domain names that could protect or harm a party is one of the tactical essential needs. She cites a recent ill-considered move by the Liberal National Party in Queensland as an illustration of what not to do.
The LNP committed a spectacular political blunder by allowing their website domain name registration to lapse. The domain name LNP.com.au was then 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 says with Australia gripped by a hotly contested election, website domain names are a powerful tool for advertising.
Having a domain name that corresponds directly to the name of your political rival could be used to embarrass rivals by a political adversary.
The LNP uses the domain name LNP.org.au, but 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 would be 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 has reserved the domain to use it not for political purposes, 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 and thus is a wakeup lesson to all political parties contesting elections now.
Former US President Bill Clinton famously found himself in an unenviable position many years ago where others reserved his Domain Names and he failed in his attempts to retrieve the Domain Names.
“The LNP will be desperately hoping the domain LNP.com.au does not become a campaign weapon used against them,” Ms Murdoch says.