U.K.-based Internet entrepreneur Benjamin Cohen says that he got an unexpected shock last month after he checked his voicemail and heard a lawyer representing Apple Computer Inc. telling him to hand over his Web site domain, itunes.co.uk. Apple alleges that Cohen's CyberBritain Holdings Ltd is a "cybersquatter" just sitting on the domain hoping for a big settlement; Cohen denies the allegation.
Cohen admits that CyberBritain registered "itunes.co.uk" as a domain name in 2000, only a few days after Apple Computer Inc. itself registered "iTunes" as a trademark with Her Majesty's Patent Office. At the time, said Cohen, that filing was strictly confidential, and he couldn't have known that Apple planned to have a music service with the same name.
"I'm not a Mac user," Cohen told MacCentral. "In fact, I didn't realize Apple had a service called iTunes until October of this year, when they started to make a big push with it here. And I can't find any reference to it online prior to 2001."
In fact, Apple didn't publicly introduce iTunes until January 9, 2001, when the company released the software at Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco, Calif. The company initially released the software as a jukebox music player that could play music from audio CDs and rip them to MP3 format. Apple further expanded iTunes' capabilities in 2003 with a music store and a Windows-compatible version, but it wasn't until June 15, 2004 that the iTunes Music Store was made available to Mac and PC users in the U.K.
Cohen calls the claims of cybersquatting ridiculous. "You'd have to know that someone else had that brand, and it's going to be very difficult [for Apple] to prove that," he said
Registered as "part of an expansion"
During the dot com boom era of the 1990s Cohen's Internet company of buying up domain names to expand the scope of their business. Itunes.co.uk was part of that effort. "We registered the domain name in good faith," he said, "and Apple could have done the same when or before they filed the trademark -- nothing would have stopped them."
It wasn't until almost a month after CyberBritain registered the itunes.co.uk domain that Apple's application for the iTunes trademark was published. Apple was granted a restricted trademark in March of 2001.
CyberBritain hasn't developed the domain name as an original property. Since 2001, the itunes.co.uk domain has been forwarded to other sites. Today the URL forwards to "Quickquid.com," which Cohen describes as "a cashback portal that uses rewards for shopping online."
Willing to resolve the dispute
Cohen says he's not anxious to go to court to retain control of itunes.co.uk -- his company would be perfectly willing to part with it, for the right price.
"They sent us an offer that we rejected," he said. "It wouldn't cover legal fees. We've now had to spend money defending our case."
Cohen is hoping that CyberBritain and Apple can come to a "gentlemanly" agreement to resolve the issue, but he's prepared to fight on if he has to.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment before MacCentral posted this article, but the company rarely discusses pending litigation.
This story, "Apple tangles with owner of itunes.co.uk" was originally published by PCWorld.