UPDATED An independent appeals panel has overturned a heavily-criticised decision to hand control of the myspace.co.uk domain to Rupert Murdoch's Fox Interactive Media.
Nominet's Dispute Resolution Service (DRS), had ruled in favour of MySpace in January, despite the domain having been registered by a small British ISP six years before the US social network was founded.
Barring any possible further High Court action by MySpace accusing TWS of "passing off", the judgement, released on Thursday last week and passed to The Register today, means control of the address remains with Stockport's Total Web Solutions (TWS).
TWS managing director Paul Fallon said: "We refused to be bullied by one of the largest media organisations in the world. This has been a very stressful case for a legitimate medium sized ISP to have to take on – but we had to defend our reputation and to stand up for what was right."
A MySpace representative did not return a call requesting comment.
TWS originally registered myspace.co.uk in August 1997 to provide its clients with a cheap and easy-to-use homepage and email address in the early days of the web. It also registered bigspace.co.uk for the same purpose. 18 TWS customers still use @myspace.co.uk email addresses.
As domains and web design became cheaper, the services became redundant, and the domain was "parked" in or before July 2004 with Sedo, a company that targets advertising links on unused domains. The following year, with the explosion of popularity of social networking, and MySpace in particular, the Sedo algorithm began serving TWS' domain with ads for services such as "MySpace Friend Adder".
The panel rejected MySpace's claim that it had rights to the domain because it is wholly descriptive of its business. The appeal then turned on two key issues to determine whether TWS' registration and use of myspace.co.uk was "abusive".
Firstly, when was the use switched to ads based on the MySpace name? The Murdoch lawyers argued that TWS had begun exploiting it when Fox acquired the site for $580m in a blaze of publicity in July 2005. The panel said it had "grave suspicions" this may have been the case, but it "simply has no way of knowing", and "cannot do other than resolve this uncertainty in favour of the Respondent [TWS]".
Read on for the politics behind the battle...