One of Britain’s top polo clubs has triumphed in a bitter dispute with a tech entrepreneur over control of its exclusive polo.co.uk web domain.
Ascot Park Polo Club was founded by Peter Grace OBE, a friend of Prince Charles who transformed the face of the sport in Britain.
It has been going since the 1970s and keen polo player and IT expert, Nick Beitner, joined the club more than 20 years ago when he was a student.
He is no longer a member, however, and insisted that the potentially very valuable polo.co.uk domain name was his and always had been.
The club runs its website and email accounts through the domain and became so concerned that it complained to internet watchdog, Nominet.
Mr Beitner said he had never sought to disrupt the club’s business and had allowed it to use his domain name out of the kindness of his heart.
But now a Nominet expert has ruled that the domain is an “abusive” registration in Mr Beitner’s hands and directed its transfer to the club.
Expert Steve Ormand, said Mr Beitner, of St Johns Wood, had transferred the domain into his own name without the club’s knowledge.
The Sunningdale-based club said that, when tech-savvy Mr Beitner became a member in the 1990s, it relied on his skills to tackle the challenges of the internet age.
He was compensated for his efforts by reduced membership fees and “discounted polo services”, the club claimed.
The domain name appeared on all the club’s publicity material, brochures and business cards and was a “vital” part of its image.
The club said it was concerned that Mr Beitner could use his control of the domain name to “unfairly disrupt” its business – and even snoop on staff emails.
It was alleged that Mr Beitner had at one point “temporarily disabled” the club’s email channels, causing financial damage to its trade and its clients.
Mr Beitner retorted that, right from the start, he had owned the domain and helped the club set up its website due to his “love of the sport”.
He had never done anything to disrupt the club or interfere with its email traffic and had allowed it to use his domain name simply out of “goodwill”.
He had worked hard for the club for over 20 years – “ex gratia and out of friendship” – but now wished to use the domain name to promote another polo club.
Ruling on the dispute, Mr Ormand said both the club’s and Mr Beitner’s versions of events were “largely unsupported” by actual evidence.
But there were some “contradictions” in Mr Beitner’s explanations, elements of which were “unconvincing”, he added.
It was “most likely” that the domain name was first registered in 1996 in the name of the club, he said.
And it was clear that Mr Beitner had transferred it into his own name in June 2010, and again in June 2013, without the club’s knowledge.
The expert also ruled that the club, not Mr Beitner, was probably responsible for paying, directly or indirectly, for the domain name’s registration and renewals.
The club had also had “exclusive” use of the domain before Mr Beitner transferred it to himself.
Mr Ormand directed that the domain name – and another, polo.uk – should be transferred from Mr Beitner to the club.