Cybersquatter punished for reading missent email

Norway

Facts
Decision


The County Court of Stavanger has found a cybersquatter guilty of blackmail and gaining possession of trade secrets in an unreasonable way.

Facts

A Norwegian businessman, Brynjar Steinsoy, registered the domain name 'kvearner.com' in 1999, because of its similarity to 'kvaerner.com', which is registered and owned by the Norwegian company Kværner ASA. Steinsoy has a history of registering domain names similar to those of international companies.

In July 2000, Steinsoy received an email intended for the board of directors of Kværner with an attachment containing highly confidential material. He and a colleague read the email and attachment, and contacted the sender. They refused to sign a confidentiality agreement, but agreed to meet the sender's lawyer. Steinsoy and his colleague wanted money in return for their silence about the confidential information. Steinsoy also rejected an offer of Nkr100,000 for the domain name but said he would sell it for Nkr2 million to Kværner or anyone else.

The parties negotiations failed and Steinsoy and his colleague were arrested and brought to trial.

Decision

The court considered whether the defendants had committed the offences of (i) gaining possession of trade secrets in an unreasonable way, and (ii) blackmail.

As regards the first, the court stated that the defendants:

  • knew that the information in the attachment was highly sensitive before they opened and read it;

  • continued to read the attachment although it was classified 'strictly confidential'; and

  • knew that the email was not intended for them.

Although the defendants could not be blamed for reading the email message that was sent in an ordinary way, opening and reading the attachment marked 'strictly confidential' enabled them to gain possession of the information in an unreasonable way.

As regards the blackmail allegation, the court stated that Steinsoy:

  • had no legal claim to keep a document that was not intended for him;

  • saw the opportunity to seek profit from the mistake instead of deleting the document;

  • threatened to sell the domain name to a third party if the market value was not paid; and

  • acted in a cold and calculated manner during negotiations.

The court found Steinsoy guilty of both charges and sentenced him to seven months' imprisonment. His colleague was found guilty of the first offence, and received a suspended sentence of 30 days' imprisonment.

The ruling has been appealed.

Hans Christian Brodtkorb, Lindh Stabell Horten, Oslo

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