Leeds battle over 'confusing' website

March 24, 2000

Leeds University has submitted a complaint to Nominet, the internet regulatory authority, after a Leeds Metropolitan student refused to hand over the ownership of a website called leeds-


The university fears that the website, set up to provide "the ultimate going-out guide for students in Leeds", will be confused with its official site.

Benjamin Smith, 21, a second-year business student, bought and registered the "leedsuni" domain name for Pounds 40 because "it was something that students would remember". He also owns leedsuni.com and leedsmet.co.uk.

Mr Smith said: "I did not think anyone would be confused because the official university site operates on the academic network and uses an ac.uk address. The website has clear links to the Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan university sites, showing that it was not intended to be an official university site."

Negotiations with the university to try to change the name to "leeds-student" failed because Mr Smith felt the university's threat of legal action was unfair.

"I didn't want to cause any trouble, but the university could have dealt with the situation better. I have no plans to move the site and the support from Leeds students has been great," he said.

The university offered to help Mr Smith change and upgrade the site's links and search engines and to reimburse his registration costs.

A spokesperson said: "We are worried about the potential confusion a website purporting to be from the university will cause to users abroad, for example."

There is little internet law in Britain other than the monitoring service provided by bodies such as Nominet, but domain names can be cancelled if it is proved they cause confusion. Cybersquatting is now illegal in America, with companies such as Microsoft famously taking control of websites using a name in an unofficial context.

Chris Reed, professor of electronic commerce law at Queen Mary and Westfield College, was doubtful the university's case would succeed. "Unless the site infringes any trademarks or confuses people into thinking it was a Leeds University site there is no case for court action. It is simply providing students with a service. However, it does depend on how Nominet applies its own rules," said Professor Reed.

Mr Smith is confident he will be allowed to continue developing his site. "I am not trying to pretend I am Leeds University and I am not doing anything un- toward. This will be an interesting case as it will identify exactly what a domain name means."

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