Not in my name - v-c loses fight for his domain

May 14, 2009

A former lecturer at the University of Kingston has won the right to continue using the domain name www.sirpeterscott.com - the name of Kingston's vice-chancellor.

Howard Fredrics, a senior lecturer at the university between 2002 and 2006, has used the website to air grievances against Sir Peter Scott and the university.

Sir Peter complained to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), arguing that he had built up "substantial and extensive goodwill" in the name "Sir Peter Scott", that it constituted a trademark and that the site contained "insulting and defamatory material".

Sir Peter said: "Dr Fredrics has been posting inaccurate statements about my colleagues on a website that carries my name, is headed by my photograph and is one of the first websites that comes up if you google me.

"The risk of misunderstanding that I'm responsible for these statements is enormous. There's ... no attempt to curb Dr Fredrics' right to criticise Kingston, but he should do so under his own name."

Dr Fredrics denied the claims, arguing that protecting the website was a freedom of speech issue and insisting that he used it for educational and artistic purposes.

The WIPO did not uphold the vice-chancellor's complaint. It said that he had not acquired sufficient goodwill to establish the name as a trademark, and that Dr Fredrics had not commercially exploited it.

"Even though this case would seem to raise an important issue concerning legitimate criticism and free speech, (our) policy simply does not extend to cases in which the complainant has not established the requisite trademark rights," Alistair Payne, a WIPO panellist, said.

He noted that court proceedings were pending, and suggested that this would be the best forum in which to resolve the matter.

Dr Fredrics is suing Kingston for defamation in connection with a newspaper story published last year. He supplied the Surrey Comet with emails suggesting that an external examiner at Kingston had been pressured into changing a report.

The story included a claim that Kingston had "categorically denied the authenticity of the emails", but a subsequent Quality Assurance Agency investigation considered them to be genuine after the examiner confirmed that the exchange had taken place.

A claim filed by Dr Fredrics at Surrey County Court says his name appeared in the articles and it was obvious to readers that he had provided the emails.

"The university therefore committed an unlawful act of libel by knowingly, deliberately and maliciously breaching the Defamation Act of 1996, causing damage to the claimant's professional and personal reputation," the claim states.

He is asking for unspecified damages and a published apology.

A spokeswoman for Kingston said: "The university's solicitors have advised that the claim is unsustainable, both legally and factually. We will apply to court to have it struck out without a full trial at the earliest opportunity. For legal reasons, we can make no further comment."

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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