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CHAPTER 10: Domain name battle with Shell resulting from the reserves scandal

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In a spectacular blunder, Shell neglected to register the top-level domain name for the newly merged company Royal Dutch Shell Plc. Shell lawyers discovered, no doubt to their shock and horror, that their most enduring critic had beaten them to the registration of Shell issued proceedings via the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) as reported by the Wall Street Journal (above) but in a spectacular public humiliation, Shell lost the case.

In 2004, a huge scandal engulfed the Royal Dutch Shell Group after it fraudulently overstated its claimed oil and gas reserves – the most important factor in determining the value of an oil company.


Daily Telegraph: Shell drops ‘bombshell’ on reserves: 9 January 2004
The Times: How Shell blew a hole in a 100-year reputation: 10 January 2004
The West Australian: Investors howl for Shell’s blood: 12 January 2004
London Evening Standard: Shell bosses lied to the City: 19 April 2004
(Former executives, led by ex-chairman Sir Philip Watts, admitted they had repeatedly lied to investors about the true level of Shell’s oil and gas reserves.)
Houston Chronicle: ‘Sick and tired about lying’ at Shell: 19 April 2004
Bloomberg: Shell Loses AAA Credit Rating: 19 April 2004
Shell bosses ‘fooled the market’: 19 April 2004
The Guardian: Trail of emails reveals depths of deceit at the heart of Shell: 20 April 2004
The Guardian: Shell admits it misled investors: 20 April 2004
The Independent: Lies, cover-ups, fat cats and an oil giant in crisis: 20 April 2004
The Scotsman: Shell admits reserve ‘lies’: 20 April 2004
The Scotsman: Shell implodes as e-mails provide damning evidence: 20 April 2004
The Times: Deceitful Shell ‘needs ten years’ to rebuild exploration business: 20 April 2004
Financial Times: Observer Column: Shell-shocked: Corporate slogans consigned to the dustbin of history no. 94: “You can be sure of Shell.”: 20 April 2004
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Dutch/Shell Group exec was ‘sick and tired’ of lying: 20 April 2004
Daily Telegraph: Memos expose Shell’s years of lying: 8 May 2004
The Scotsman: Shell’s reputation left in tatters: 21 April 2004
TheStarOnline: Shell report exposes lies, CFO sacked: 21 April 2004
Daily Telegraph: Shell suffers second cut to credit rating: 21 April 2004
Daily Telegraph: Sacked Shell boss ‘escorted from HQ’: 22 April 2004
The Times: A very British kind of scandal: why Shell is no Enron: 23 April 2004
Daily Telegraph: Shell’s lies over reserves spark FSA investigation: 24 April 2004
Times: “Shell is a disreputable company in need of a strong injection of ethics”: 25 April 2004 ”
(“An Audience with Sir Phillip Watts”)
The Mail On Sunday: Shell’s top bosses named in £8 billion lawsuit after being spared the sack: 25 April 2004
Daily Mail: Shell attacked from all sides: 26 April 2004
(OIL giant Shell urgently needs to embark on a damage limitation offensive with investors before regulatory probes and lawsuits send the crisis spiralling out of control.)
Daily Telegraph: Shell gives Watts a £1m golden farewell: 23 May 2004
Daily Telegraph: Shell slices still more off proven reserves: 25 May 2004
Daily Telegraph: Watts’ pension pot tops £10m: 28 May 2004
fin24: Shell directors under fire: 20 June 2004
Extract: “The report came just a day after Dutch paper NRC Handelsblad quoted a former executive of one of the oil group’s subsidiaries as saying half of the company’s 400 most senior managers were aware of the problem.”
London Evening Standard: Shell ‘has lied for 10 years’: 26 June 2004
Sadistic sacking of a Royal Dutch Shell whistleblower: 27 October 2010
Shell Closes Book on 2004 Reserves Scandal as Claims Deadline Passes: 5 November 2010

The U.S. lawyers leading the class action lawsuit against Shell, Bernstein Liebhard & Lifshitz, LLP, approached us for insider information and access to whistleblowers, which we happily provided. One of them was a Shell Production geologist Dr John Huong.

We also found a Shell shareholder willing to represent non-U.S. shareholders in a global expanded class action against Shell. We advised the lead lawyers at Bernstein. We worked closely with their investigator, Steven J. Peitler.

Eight companies in the Royal Dutch Shell Group jointly sued Dr Huong for libel in respect of his whistleblower postings on our website covering the reserves drama and other issues. Dr Hung in turn sued Shell for wrongful dismissal. Shell eventually withdrew the collective action and settled the wrongful dismissal case, thereby buying the silence of Dr Huong.

As a direct consequence of the reserves debacle, the Anglo-Dutch arms of the Royal Dutch Shell Group – Shell Transport and Trading Company Plc and Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, were forced to merge into a single new company: Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

However, in a spectacular blunder, Shell neglected to register what was the top-level domain name for the new company. Shell lawyers discovered, no doubt to their consternation and horror, that their most enduring critic had beaten them to the registration of

Proceedings via the WIPO were brought in May 2005 by Shell International Petroleum Company Limited on behalf of the Royal Dutch Shell Group against my father as the “Respondent” (then owner) of three Shell related domain names, including

The proceedings attracted embarrassing publicity for Shell, with international news coverage e.g.

Shell Wages Legal Fight Over Web Domain Name: The Wall Street Journal: 2 June 2005: PDF of the newspaper article as it appeared. pdf online version. pdf of the newspaper article on page B6

(Unbeknown to us at the time, Shell had deliberately defamed us to a third party – The Wall Street Journal – by alleging we had obtained the domain name in “bad faith.” The subsequent unanimous verdict by a WIPO panel decided otherwise. The defamation would have been in direct violation of the peace treaty if it had still been in force. See related Shell internal email correspondence – 3 pages – we obtained in response to a SAR application.)

Shell Fights Over Domain Name Ahead of Parent Firm’s Merger: Wall Street Journal Europe June 3 – 5, 2005. Page A4

Article published on a Russian Domain Name Website (3 June 2005)

(English translation)

Shell begins the fight for a domain name

The global oil giant Royal Dutch / Shell Group plans to merge this summer with its two parent companies and create a new company, Royal Dutch Shell PLC. In this regard, the company begins the fight for the domain Currently, the domain belongs to 88-year-old Englishman Alfred Donovan. The Englishman uses the domain name for the site on which he publishes newspaper articles and comments, mostly of negative content. In particular, a lot of articles appeared on the site about the financial scandal that erupted at Shell last year.

Shell has repeatedly sued Donovan for obtaining rights to a domain, but the site still continues to work for an elderly Englishman, according to the publication “Secret Firms”.

In April, Shell officials filed a lawsuit at the WIPO Mediation and Arbitration Center demanding that Donovan be deprived of rights. Shell expects to win the case and obtain the rights to the domain, however, the official online representation of the company will remain at

Alfred Donovan’s son, John, said his father was not interested in money. He plans to continue posting truthful news about the company’s activities on the site.

Shell in Legal Battle Over Name of Web Site, Journal Reports: Bloomberg: 2 June 2005

On Friday 24 June 2005, a Reuters syndicated article was published by The New York Times, MSN Money, The Washington Post and several other publications under the headline: “Shell shareholders to Back Unification

Relevant extract from The Washington Post article:

Another dampener on Shell’s biggest corporate overhaul since the two holding firms tied up in 1907, is a spat over the rights to the web domain “”

Disgruntled shareholder Alfred Donovan beat Shell to register the domain name. Shell has sued Donovan for the rights to the domain but while the matter plays out, Donovan uses the site to lambaste Shell management.

I have provided links to the relevant documents arising from the proceedings: SHELL INTERNATIONAL PETROLEUM COMPANY LIMITED v. ALFRED DONOVAN

Shell 44-page Complaint to World Intellectual Property Organisation: 18 May 2005

Shell 32-page Complaint Exhibit Supplied to WIPO: 18 May 2005

WIPO Deadline Notification to Alfred Donovan: 25 May 2005

Donovan 17-page response to Shell proceedings: 14 June 2005

WIPO Decision Notification: 11 August 2005

Domain name decision published on the net by The World Intellectual Property Org dated 8 August 2005.

It was duly reported in The Times newspaper: AN ATTEMPT by Royal Dutch Shell to claim the website from an 88-year-old veteran who uses it to publish material that criticises the oil giant has failed: The Times, City Diary: 16 August 2005.

The news was also reported by Reuters:

Practical Law Company: WIPO panel allows use of SHELL trade marks in domain names of criticism websites

“Tuesday 23 August 2005

The World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Arbitration and Mediation Centre has refused to order the transfer of the domain names, and from a registrant who used the names to link to a website critical of Shell’s activities, holding that the registrant had a legitimate right to use the domain names to exercise his freedom of expression and had not registered them in bad faith.

PDF version

Against expectations, Shell lost the battle to seize the domain names I had registered in my fathers’ name and which I still retain, including the most important domain name,

According to one news report, the lawsuit cost Shell millions…

I would like to acknowledge the invaluable advice we were freely given by Mr Paul Alan Levy, an attorney from the Public Citizen Litigation Group based in Washington DC. Without his help the outcome of the WIPO proceedings may have been different. For more information about Mr Levy, see the article “Paul Levy, the Web Bully’s Worst Enemy” published by the Washington Magazine.


You would have thought that any visitor to the website would quickly realize that the site was not operated by Shell. There has always been a disclaimer pointing this out on every webpage. It should also be obvious from other content on the home page.

Nonetheless, it seems that some people still form the impression that it is the official Shell website. We receive all manner of email meant for Shell. It includes hundreds of job applications, business proposals, Shell pension enquiries, shareholder enquiries, complaints, invitations to speak at conferences, and correspondence from the Dutch Defence Ministry and the UK National Maritime Museum.

The unforeseen amusing consequences of the domain name victory was reported in September 2007: “Shell’s Colchester headache”:



The Donovans say they have received CVs, business proposals, and even a terrorist threat sent to them: all were intended for Shell. (They kindly forwarded them on.) And the site has begun to break news regularly. Earlier this month, Reuters scooped that another senior Shell executive, this one a manager at the troubled Kashagan project in Kazakhstan, had quit.

The Donovans, and through them Reuters, knew about the story before Shell’s press office in London. As journalists and disgruntled employees have realised, if you want to know what’s up at one of the worlds biggest companies or just want a good moan about the latest oil spill start with

The Times Diary: 22 September 2007:

Since the 1990s, Royal Dutch Shell has been at war with a family who registered a website, The Donovan family, led by 90-year-old Burma veteran Alfred, perhaps quixotically want Shell to change its management. Shell has failed to shut down the site, which has attracted job applications and, allegedly, even a terrorist threat, all of which are dutifully passed on to the company. Space does not allow exposition of all the correspondence between the two sides, but there are signs that Shell is developing a sense of humour. A recent letter from general counsel there suggests that “a truly alternative solution for all those people inadvertently contacting you is for you to choose a website and e-mail address without the word ‘shell’ in it”.

I have written permission from Michiel Brandjes, the Company Secretary & General Counsel Corporate of Royal Dutch Shell Plc to check the mail meant for Shell, removing junk mail and passing on anything I judge that they should see. It is, of course, a huge humiliation for Shell, but an embarrassment the company is apparently prepared to endure.

Shell cannot deny knowledge of this improbable situation.

Here is the email correspondence to prove it.  

The domain name battle has also been referred to in a number of books including “Corporate Reputation” authored by Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross.

Extracts from chapter entitled “Reputation Loss” pages 19 & 20:

One such empowered activist is arch Shell critic Alfred Donovan. No one was more surprised than Royal Dutch Shell PLC to learn that this 88-year-old British army veteran had purchased the Internet domain name The gadfly Donovan was a well-known, though underestimated, critic of the company. By acquiring the domain name, Donovan obtained the perfect platform to voice his criticisms of the oil giant. Who would have thought a decade ago that such an unlikely individual could stand up to a corporate powerhouse, waging a war of words against one of the world’s largest companies?

Demise of “Tell Shell”

For some years, Shell operated a “Tell Shell” Internet forum for open and lively discussion involving Shell employees, Shell shareholders and other parties interested in Shell.

When the “Tell Shell” postings became too lively and too critical of Shell, they were initially openly censored then secretly censored, with postings vanishing without trace or explanation.

When this devious action was publicly exposed, Shell first suspended, then closed down “Tell Shell”. was one of the domain names Shell unsuccessfully attempted to seize in the WIPO proceedings.

To Shell’s consternation, their “Tell Shell” forum has been replaced by my unofficial Shell website, which has become the world’s leading online source of information and discussion about the oil giant.

It also has a Shell Blog were people can air views about Shell, whether positive or negative.

Below: U.S. attorney Paul Levy of the Public Citizen Litigation Group in Washington DC and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.