Ryanair fails to silence critic.

I have nothing in particular say against Ryanair or its strident CEO Michael O’Leary. However,  I do believe that that there are times Mr. O’Leary so oversteps the mark by treating his critics – or those people who refuse to see things his way – with such contempt that he deserves to be taken down a notch or two from time to time.  

I have to say that it delights more than somewhat to hear that someone who is standing up to Mr. O’Leary’s and his bully-boy tactics does get backing from powerful UN group such as World Intellectual Property Organization .

The low-cost airline’s  battle to win control of the internet domain name http://www.ryanaircampaign.org which was set in 2006 by disgruntled former customer, Michael Coulston as a open platform from which he and others could criticize the airline’s business practices, was revealed by WIPO for what it always was – a typically naked attempt by the airline to silence critics. 

Ryanair had complained to WIPO that the domain name infringed on its trademarks and that it should therefore be transferred into Ryanair’s possession.

 But  the WIPO, which was set up by the UN in 1967 with the stated purpose of encouraging creative activity and promoting the protection of intellectual property throughout the world, under an arbitration procedure set up in 1999, rejected Ryanair’s claim. 

Coulston, it said in its judgment, had not breached breached ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) policy [link] in any way. It went on to say that even in where Coulston himself had admitted to breaking with he what he thought was policy, he actually hadn’t. It would appear that he thought that that the mere act of criticized Ryanair was, under ICANN rules, and by default, tarnishing its name. 

The WIPO arbitration panel, obviously realizing that Ryanair was attempting to shut Coulston up by sugesting that he tarnishing the company, thought otherwise. It made it very clear to Ryanair that criticism and tarnishing were quite different things.

…Complainant* states that Respondent** admitted to attempting to tarnish the RYANAIR mark. This argument, though, reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of the tarnishment prohibited by the Policy. Tarnishment in this context does not mean criticism. If it did, every website critical of a brand owner could be branded a tarnishing use. Rather, “[t]arnishment in this context refers to such unseemly conduct as linking unrelated pornographic, violent or drug-related images or information to an otherwise wholesome mark”. Britannia Building Society v. Britannia Fraud Prevention, WIPO Case No. D2001-0505 (July 6, 2001). In the instant case, Respondent’s site criticizes Complainant and its business practices, sometimes in harsh terms, but it does not associate the RYANAIR mark with any unwholesome activity. Accordingly, Complainant has failed to show that Respondent has used the Domain Name to tarnish Complainant’s trademark  

*Ryanair **Coulston 

I like the way  Ryanair’s claim is summarily dismissed by saying that “tarnishment does not mean criticism” before going on to say that “if it did every website critical of a brand owner could be branded a tarnishing use” and finally giving a clear definition of what tarnishment “in the context means”. 

All in all, a victory for common sense I would say. Naturally enough, we cannot expect Mr O’Leary to let a little setback like this get him down. He’s got far too much of a bruiser for that. It’s almost certain that he’ll be crying “foul” – but then this is what he always does when things do not go his way.  


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