Nominet panellist cancels 'JohnnieWalker.me.uk'

United Kingdom

In Guinness United Distillers & Vintners BV v Walker, Nominet panellist Andrew D Murray has ordered the cancellation of the domain name 'JohnnieWalker.me.uk'. Murray found that the respondent, John F Walker, (i) had not substantiated his claim that he has been known as 'Johnnie' since childhood, and (ii) had registered the domain name primarily for the purpose of disrupting the business of Guinness, the owner of the JOHNNIE WALKER trademark.

Walker registered 'JohnnieWalker.me.uk' in September 2002. The domain name first hosted a website offering web development tutorials. Within a week, the content was amended to contain several references to alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous, and a representation of an apparently intoxicated man walking across the screen. The content changed again several times before Guinness brought proceedings under the Nominet Dispute Resolution Service (DRS) Policy. Guinness claimed that Walker's registration was abusive and, therefore, asked for the domain name to be either transferred or cancelled.

Although Murray rejected Guinness's contention that Walker had registered the domain name for the purpose of selling it, and noted the importance of individuals being allowed to use their name when establishing a web presence, particularly in relation to the '.me.uk' second-level domain, he concurred with the claim that Walker registered the domain name primarily for the purpose of unfairly disrupting Guinness's business through:

  • metatagging various trademarks and descriptions of JOHNNIE WALKER products;

  • placing on the original web page the statement "Johnnie Walker supports Alcoholics Anonymous, sobriety and temperance"; and

  • depicting a stylized intoxicated man that was clearly designed to resemble the well-known striding man trademark.

Whereas Murray concluded that Walker had no rights in the domain name, he refused to transfer it to Guinness on the grounds that the registration would be abusive. This is because the rules of the '.me.uk' second-level domain (i) state that the registrant must be a natural person (or have the agreement of a natural person who has rights in the name), and (ii) have precedence over the rules of the Nominet DRS Policy. Accordingly, Murray was compelled to cancel the domain name.

Mark Lubbock, Ashurst Morris Crisp, London

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