Domain names and some issues

Published : Jan 20, 2001 00:00 IST

THE Madras High Court has restrained Living Media India Limited, publishers of the weekly magazine India Today, or its representatives, from publishing an online newspaper in the name and style of "The News Today" or any name similar to it. Judge Prabha Sridevan also restrained Living Media from using the domain name or any name similar to it. The injunctions granted on January 10 would be in force till January 31.

Judge Prabha Sridevan granted these interim injunctions on a suit filed by News Today Printers and Publishers (Private) Limited, a Chennai-based company which has been publishing an evening newspaper called News Today in English from 1982. Besides, it is publishing an Internet version of the newspaper in the domain name from September 1998 which is being updated every day.

In his suit, the plaintiff News Today Printers and Publishers (Private) Limited, represented by its Director T.R. Jawahar, said News Today was the owner of the trade name and trade mark "News Today". This newspaper was registered with the R egistrar of Newspapers on March 26, 1983. A declaration for the registration was given on November 30, 1982. The plaintiff argued that News Today had the exclusive right to use the trade mark "News Today" and no one else had any right to adopt any trade mark which was similiar to it or deceptively similar to it.

The plaintiff said he was shocked to see advertisements issued by Living Media India Limited in newspapers on January 1, 2001 that the India Today group was launching an online newspaper called "The News Today" and that its domain name was www.thenewstod . The defendants launched their online newspaper on January 1.

The plaintiff said he had spent huge amounts of money in advertising and sales promotion to popularise the trade mark "News Today". Its circulation, which was about 2,000 in 1982, has now crossed 30,000, which was a 15-fold increase. The plaintiff's webs ite, which had about 500 hits a month when it was launched in 1998, had shown a growth of more than 700 per cent. This would be severely affected if the defendants were allowed to continue to use the domain name .

Trading by the defendants on the plaintiff's trade mark, trade name and domain name just by adding the prefix "the" was "a blatant violation of the plaintiff's legitimate right over the title by resorting to mere cosmetics", the plaintiff said. He added that if anybody were allowed to start a news site or an e-paper imitating an existing newspaper just by adding a prefix, only confusion would reign.

THE plaintiff argued that the online editions of many publications were only an extension of their news service and not independent ventures aimed at cashing in on the Internet revolution. In any case, if there could be a news site News Today on t he net, it could only be that of the plaintiff as he had a RNI-registered title and an online edition too already. "The defendants are seeking to edge out the plaintiff by a strategem which is unethical, unlawful and inexplicable," the plaintiff said. Ac cording to him, the "unfair act by the defendants only tends to undermine the profession of journalism as well as the business ethics governing it". He added that the advertisement revenues for the plaintiff through his physical newspaper and its online version would be affected if the respondents were allowed to continue with their acts.

The plaintiff said his newspaper News Today was being published for the last 18 years continuously and its Internet newspaper from September 1998. The defendant's action in using a similar name was "motivated and will cause confusion in the minds of the general public", the plaintiff said. "The use of such domain name by the defendants will cause serious and irreparable hardship to the plaintiff as the Internet users will be confused and deceived into believing that the defendant's newspaper is t hat of the plaintiff," the suit said. A domain name was more than an Internet address and was entitled to equal protection as a trade mark, the plaintiff said.

The only difference was in the use of the prefix "the" which was purely cosmetic, the plaintiff said. The use of the word "the" would not make any difference. If there could be a news site "News Today" on the net, it could only be that of the plaintiff b ecause he had a RNI-registered title and an online edition too already.

So the plaintiff prayed for injunctions restraining the defendants from using the offending mark and name "The News Today" and from using the domain name

Judge Prabha Sridevan granted interim injunctions till January 31. She also restrained Living Media India Limited from advertising the online newspaper or its domain name in any media till that date.

T.R. Jawahar, Editor of News Today, said, "There is a misconception that the web laws are vague. They are clear."

ACCORDING to an informed source, several battles are under way for the control of domain names. There had been a big rush to acquire domain names, and laws were being evolved at the international level to ensure that there was no confusion on the web on account of similar domain names.

According to the specialist, there were many domain name registrars including Network Solutions Inc., Domain Registration Services (the U.S.), A Technology Company (Canada), Interdomain (Spain) and so on. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and N umbers (ICANN) was in the process of evolving guidelines and framing regulations for the use of domain names. A non-profit organisation, ICANN had been addressing a dispute resolution policy for trade mark/domain name disputes.

At its meeting on November 16, 2000, the ICANN selected seven new top-level domains (TLDs) for negotiation of agreements. They included .biz for businesses; .coop for non-profit cooperatives; .name for registration by individuals; .pro for accountants, l awyers and physicians; and so on.

In March, 2000, The Economic Times won a legal victory over a domain name.

T.S. Subramanian
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