A bitter family feud was the subject recent domain name dispute resolution proceeding at the official UK domain name registry, Nominet. The outcome shows that grounds for challenging ownership of domain names are narrowly and specifically defined, that the rules are designed to settle commercial and not individual disputes and in that context there is a no substitute for ownership of a registered trade mark.

The case concerned the domain name www.hvidbro-mitchell.co.uk which stands in the name of Mrs. Wendy Croxford. The corresponding website has been used to express Mrs. Croxford’s frustrations about her ex-husband, Simon Mitchell, whose wife is Mrs Maiken Hvidbro Mitchell. In particular Mrs. Coxford claims he owes her almost £80,000 in unpaid child support payments.

A complaint was brought to Nominet requesting that the domain name be transferred to Mrs Hvidbro-Mitchell because it was being used to make “obsessive criticism” of her husband and to cause “anxiety and distress” to her family. It was argued that whenever the surname Hvidbro-Mitchell was typed into a search engine it attracted users to the website under the false impression it was connected with Mrs Hvidbro-Mitchell.

Nominet’s dispute resolution rules provide that the owner of “rights” in a name can object to the “abusive” registration of a domain name. However, merely being known under a family name does not provide a person with rights in that name, particularly in the absence of commercial trading activity under the name or ownership of a registered trade mark. It is also the case that use of a domain name purely “for the purposes of tribute or criticism” is not considered abusive under the rules.

As a result Nominet’s ruling was that while “the list of people who share that surname (Hvidbro-Mitchell) may be very short, in reality it is probably only her (Mrs. Hvidbro-Mitchell’s) immediate family” it does not mean Mrs Hvidbro Mitchell has rights in the name and as such the complaint was rejected. The finding illustrates that the Nominet dispute resolution rules are much more geared towards trade mark owners or commercial trading entities than personal disputes between individuals.