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 royaldutchshellplc.com. 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 over-stated its claimed oil and gas reserves – the most important factor in determining the value of an oil company.
As a direct consequence, 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 royaldutchshellplc.com.
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 www.royaldutchshellplc.com.
The proceedings attracted embarrassing publicity for Shell, with international news coverage e.g.
(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
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 royaldutchshellplc.com. 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 royaldutchshellplc.com 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 www.shell.com.
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 “royaldutchshellplc.com.”
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 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 royaldutchshellplc.com 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 royaldutchshellgroup.com, royaldutchshellplc.com and tellshell.org 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.
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, royaldutchshellplc.com.
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.
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF OPERATING UNDER THE ROYALDUTCHSHELLPLC.COM DOMAIN NAME
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”:
PROSPECT MAGAZINE WEBSITE ARTICLE: 12 Sept 2007
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 www.royaldutchshellplc.com.
The Times Diary: 22 September 2007:
Since the 1990s, Royal Dutch Shell has been at war with a family who registered a website, royaldutchshellplc.com. 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 www.royaldutchshellplc.com. 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”.
TellShell.org 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 DCshellplc.website and its sister non-profit websites royaldutchshellplc.com, royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.