A UK software company is being forced to defend itself against the attentions of the UK's financial watchdog, the Financial Services Authority (FSA).
The FSA is insisting that the company hand over its www.fsa.co.uk domain name for the simple reason that it is trying to pass itself off as the independent non-government body it is not. Unfortunately (for the FSA), the software company is called Findlay Steele Associates.
Findlay Steele was set up in 1994 and boasts clients such as Railtrack, Logica, IBM and Barclays. It decided to register the domain fsa.co.uk in April 1997.
Unfortunately for the FSA, its existence started in October 1997, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer renamed the Securities & Investments Board. Until then it had the plum domain www.sib.co.uk. So the FSA went to Findlay Steele and made it an offer on the domain.
Meanwhile, the FSA took up the www.fsa.gov.uk domain - which it doesn't like much because it's a bit sniffy about being regarding as a governmental body and makes a big fuss about how it will soon be "mainly" funded by the companies that it investigates. Unfortunately, the offer wasn't one that Findlay Steele couldn't refuse. So they did.
Then in January this year, the owners suddenly received an email demanding the domain be handed over (the FSA would meet the costs of this). The reasoning is that email addresses may get confused and Findlay Steele receive confidential and important information.
They ignored the email and another arrived. This is where things get odd - the email alleges that the fsa.co.uk domain had been used by a financial journalist called Fergal George. Findlay Steele had never heard of him and neither have we. It was most likely a spoofed address to try to elicit some information out of someone.
They said they'd never heard of him and then a letter from Nominet arrived - with a copy of a letter sent to it from the FSA. The FSA quoted Nominet domain dispute rules (Nominet thankfully doesn't use UDRP), saying the domain should be handed over because it was "being used in a manner likely to cause confusion to Internet users".
It also made fairly clear that if the dispute was not resolved in their favour, the FSA would go to court and attempt to do Findlay Steele for passing off. Findlay Steele panicked, did its homework, and replied (pointing out the existence of the Football Supporters Association and the Food Standards Agency while they were there.)
So the Nominet mediator came in. Findlay Steele ask for a sum of money for the domain (no one will say how much). The FSA said no. FS lowered it. The FSA said no.
So the Nominet decider man enters the scene. FS makes it arguments. The FSA points to several emails wrongly sent to the fsa.co.uk address as evidence.
However, it is all finally coming to a head and a judgement is expected in the next week or so, but even if that falls in Findlay Steele's favour, there remains the risk of legal proceedings against them from the FSA.
You can read all about it on the Findlay Steele site here.
It's almost quaint to see a dispute between a powerful body and normal law-abiding companies getting this far. We've got so used to WIPO or NAF simply finding some ludicrous reason to hand them over. It is also a huge boost, we believe, to Nominet's approach to dispute resolution as opposed to the flawed UDRP rules.
Incidentally, FSA.com is run by Financial Security Assurance, which has 11 offices all over the world, so it seems unlikely the FSA will go for that one. ®