A company which bought the rights to domain names similar to the names of local newspapers in Bradford and Oxford has been ordered to hand them over to the papers' publishers, Newsquest.
The ruling opens the way for Newsquest to open up its own sites for the Bradford Telegraph and Argus and the Oxford Mail at the respective internet addresses telegraphandargus.co.uk and oxfordmail.co.uk.
Newsquest had complained to Nominet, the UK's internet domain name dispute resolution service, after it found that the two domain names were registered to New Zealand company Chao Investments Ltd.
The newspaper group claimed that Chao took "unfair advantage" of its rights by opting to use domain names identical to the names of its prominent local newspapers.
In written submissions to Nominet, Newsquest argued: "We are particularly disturbed that the Registrant is utilising the websites to host and profit from sponsored links with commercial organisations.
"On www.oxfordmail.co.uk, there is a link entitled 'News in the Oxford Mail Paper' which then leads to a webpage which contains more sponsored links. This is a flagrant misuse of the Oxford Mail's name and unjust enrichment from Newsquest's hard-won reputation.
"In our submission the abuse causes confusion to the general public and amounts to an actionable passing-off under UK law.
"We submit that readers of the Oxford Mail and the Telegraph and Argus are likely to believe that these websites are operated by or in some way connected to the newspapers themselves."
It argued that Chao had a history of registering domain names which were identical or similar to registered and unregistered trademarks, and already had a string of Nominet rulings against it in other cases.
Backing the publisher, and ordering Chao to hand over the domain names, Nominet expert Keith Gymer ruled that the registration was "abusive".
His written decision, just made public, states: "The respondent has offered no honest explanation for its adoption and use of the domain names.
"As is typically the case in such circumstances, the respondent has simply misappropriated the complainant's property – their goodwill in the respective newspaper's names, with the undisguised intention of unfairly profiting from use of the domain mames with complete disregard for the rights of the complainant."
Gymer continues: "This evidence is sufficient to substantiate the complainant's assertion that the domain names are abusive registrations."
Gymer found that Newsquest has rights in respect of a mark which is similar to each of the domain names telegraphandargus.co.uk and oxfordmail.co.uk and ordered that they should be transferred to the company.