The ongoing crusade against any domains that feature the word "easy" by Easy Group and its head Stelios Haji-Ioannou may finally have come unstuck with art print site Easyart.com.
CEO of Easyart.com, Simon Matthews, is just one of many people that have been unfairly targeted by the multi-national conglomerate for making use of the word "easy" on the Internet. But, tired of Easy Group's constant legal threats, Mr Matthews has sent the company an ultimatum: sue me or get the lawyers off my back.
In common with hundreds of other sites, Mr Matthews received a letter just before Xmas from Easy Group's lawyers informing him that he was guilty of "passing off" on Easy Group's good name. It demanded he handed over the domain or face the courts.
Mr Matthews consulted his lawyers and found out what many before him had discovered - Mr Haji-Iannou and his company didn't have a leg to stand on but the costs of any legal battle were potentially ruinous. "I've been told the costs will be around £50,000 and even if I win, we will lose 20 per cent of that," Mr Matthews told us, adding that he had already spent £7,000 to £8,000 so far on lawyers.
He refuses to back down though, declaring: "If he [Stelios] does decide to sue us, he'll have a fight on his hands." Easyart.com sells pictures and posters of a wide range of art and currently hires 15 staff. Mr Matthews says he should make a profit in the last quarter of this year. But although its business is a million miles away from the airline flights, car hire and Internet cafes that Easy Group run, the company argues that even by owning an "easy" domain it is trying to feed of its efforts.
The main domain name arbitrator, WIPO, doesn't agree, and ruled that "easy" is an extremely common word and no company can claims rights over it. The High Court doesn't agree either, deciding in one of only two cases to actually go to court (the other was settled) that Easy Group had no rights over the word "easy" and could not prevent anyone from registering a company or domain with the word in.
In that case - relating to easyRealestate.co.uk - Easy Group actually won the case since the domain owner had clearly copied easyJet's set-up, colours and design. He had also attempted to sell the domain to Easy Group at an inflated price.
Easyart.com bears no similarity to any of Easy Group's sites and Mr Haji-Iannou is personally aware that there is no intention to sell the domain since Mr Matthews made the point very clear when he met him face-to-face in April in the hope of clearing up any misunderstanding.
Mr Matthews told us that he thought the issue had been settled after his meeting with the self-proclaimed champion of the people but was stunned when another letter arrived a month ago. In it, Easy Group's lawyers explained that it had taken a survey of 99 random punters and discovered that seven of them felt that Easyart.com was confusingly similar to Easy Group's interests.
"This was clearly a deliberate attempt to prolong my legal fees," Mr Matthews told us. "So I sent back a letter asking for all future correspondence to be sent direct to me." In the letter, he also requested that Stelios make good on his claims to take him to court or leave him be. "I've not heard a peep since," he told us. "And that was a couple of weeks ago."
Mr Matthews is not confident that that will be the end of it though. Whether Easy Group decides to leave Easyart.com alone to avoid setting a legal precedent or goes through with its threat is anyone's guess. Mr Matthews mind is made up ,though: "Someone's got to stop him." ®
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