Retail giants fight for Internet copyright

M&S and others are preparing for battle over what they see as the abuse of their brand names on the Net. Roger Pearson reports. Retail giants Marks & Spencer, Virgin Enterprises and Sainsburys, along with the Ladbroke Group, are weighing into the legal battle over cyberspace copyright.

The four companies are heading for the High Courts Chancery Division, with battle plans being drawn up by City firm SJ Berwin & Co in a bid to stop their names or similar names being used as domain names on the Internet. They are seeking damages and wide-ranging court orders.

Injunctions are to be sought from One in a Million of Leeds, Richard Conway of Finchley, Julian Nicholson of New Malden, Junic of Kingston-upon-Thames, and Global Media Communications of Leeds. Marks & Spencer, whose action mirrors those of the other three, will ask the court for orders restraining them from using, establishing or selling the domain names and, and banning them from passing off non-Marks & Spencer goods and services as being associated with the company.

Orders are also to be sought preventing trade mark infringement. In what is seen in Internet law circles as a significant move, M&S also wants an order forcing the companies and individuals they are suing to assign the Marks & Spencer domain name to them.

Domain name brokers companies specialising in domain name sales have been registering domain names companies are likely to want to use in future. Other names include Burger King, HMV, British Telecom and the Spice Girls. Once a name is registered abroad, brokers have the right under UK law to demand payment for its use.