Who's suing who

A LEGAL war has broken out over the ownership of English football on the Internet.

Even the Internet "domain" name of the national side, "englandfc.co.uk," is under dispute, in a case which could cost leading clubs huge amounts of money.

The Football Association and 17 mainly Premiership football clubs are suing a one-man firm which has registered their names on the Internet and is seeking to sell the names back to them for hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Domain names such as "arsenal.co.uk," "newcstleutd. co.uk" and "tottenhamhotspurfc.co.uk" have been registered at pounds 120 a go by Champion Press, a firm based in Sidcup, Kent, and its proprietor Brian Pead.

Mr Pead remained defiant yesterday, despite having received a writ from the FA and 17 clubs last Tuesday.He said: "We legally own these domains outright. That is not in dispute."

A spokesman for the FA said last night: "It certainly is in dispute as far as we're concerned."

The FA decided to co-ordinate a legal action after hearing about Mr Pead's contact with Sheffield Wednesday last October. According to Tuesday's writ, Mr Pead wrote to the club saying: "However, we are prepared to sell the (sheffieldwednesday.co.uk) website for the sum of pounds 95,000."

Considering that registration of the name with UK internet firm Nominet had cost Mr Pead just pounds 120, the FA's writ added: "The price asked by the defendants therefore involved a mark-up of approximately 79,000 per cent." The FA's writ claims that "the defendants have obtained the ... domains in order to sell them at a grossly inflated price."

"The Defendants ... threaten and intend to hold the ... goodwill of the Plaintiffs to ransom."

Champion Press and Mr Pead "do not have any legitimate purpose for registering the ...domains", the writ says.

The FA and the clubs are applying for an injunction to stop Champion Press from "infringing the plaintiff's registered trademarks" and also to stop them "passing off or attempting to pass off ... Internet domain names not being the services of the plaintiffs."

The clubs are also asking the court for an Order that Champion Press transfers the domain names to the respective clubs" and any similar name or names which the defendants have registered or caused to be registered for use on the Internet."

The FA and the 17 clubs are using the FA's usual City law firm Denton Hall to issue the writ and fight the case.

It is understood that the FA's camp will be relying heavily on a decision give by Jonathan Sumption QC, when he was sitting as a deputy High Court judge last November.

The decision concerned the "One in a Million" case. The defendant had registered the names of various companies on the Internet, and was sued for passing off and trademark infringement. Mr Sumption QC found against the defendants and ordered that the domain names be assigned to the respective plaintiffs.

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