By John Donovan
5 October 2007
On 22 September 2007, The Times newspaper reported:
“Since the 1990s, Royal Dutch Shell has been at war with a family who registered a website, royaldutchshellplc.com. The Donovan family, led by 90-year-old Burma veteran Alfred…”
Alfred Donovan is the father of the author of this article. The website has been described by the Financial Times newspaper as being “anti-Shell”.
The intense antagonism displayed by Shell management was evident in correspondence which concluded earlier today.
Michiel Brandjes, the Company Secretary and General Counsel Corporate of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, warned in an email received this morning “not to associate your website with any Shell endeavours in any way.” The warning was backed up by an implied threat to take legal action.
The hostile response was in response to a proposal to introduce Google Adsense onto the website and donate ALL Adsense revenue to good causes associated with Shell.
The relevant correspondence is published below: –
EMAIL FROM JOHN DONOVAN TO MICHIEL BRANDJES, COMPANY SECRETARY, ROYAL DUTCH SHELL PLC:
From: John Donovan [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: woensdag 3 oktober 2007 22:20
To: Brandjes, Michiel CM RDS-LC
Cc: van der Veer, Jeroen J RDS-CEJV; Brinded, Malcolm A RDS-ECMB
Dear Mr. Brandjes
As you are probably aware, we have always operated our websites on a non-commercial basis and intend to continue to do so in the future.
Our main website www.royaldutchshellplc.com attracts a considerable volume of traffic each month. If Google AdSense was introduced it would produce a revenue stream geared to the number of visitors clicking on the adverts on display – the click through rate. Since Google AdSense does not give an estimate of projected revenues and all users of the scheme are bound by a confidentiality agreement to keep revenue matters confidential, we do not know if the income would be negligible or substantial.
We are considering signing up for AdSense on the basis that ALL revenue, every penny, would be donated to a worthy cause associated with Shell, with relevant Google AdSense statements disclosed to the beneficiary so that they could verify that all income for a stated period was handed over.
For example, we could start with the “Tour de Sakhalin”:
The “Tour de Sakhalin” has been completed but donations are still being sought.
While we would like to see such worthy causes benefit from the website, we are concerned that Shell might seek to exploit our charitable ambitions by claiming that the non-commercial status of the website had changed. The non-commercial status was a significant factor in the domain name decision.
We would argue that this would not be the case. However, rather than the IP lawyers having a field day discussing relevant issues, we wondered if on the basis set out above, Shell would be willing to give an indication of its reaction to the site being used to generate income for worthy causes relating to Shell?
If Shell’s reaction is favourable we would proceed.
EMAIL RESPONSE FROM MICHIEL BRANDJES: Fri 05/10/2007 08:44
Dear Mr Donovan,
Please do not to associate your website with any Shell endeavours in any way. Shell supports numerous charities and social causes and confusion with your initiaves should be avoided. Shell reserves every right with respect to your website and related actions.
Company Secretary and General Counsel Corporate
Royal Dutch Shell plc
Registered office: Shell Centre London SE1 7NA UK
Place of registration and number: England 4366849
Correspondence address: PO Box 162, 2501 AN The Hague,
REPLY EMAIL FROM JOHN DONOVAN TO MICHIEL BRANDJES, COPIED TO SHELL CEO JEROEN VAN DER VEER & SHELL GENERAL COUNSEL RICHARD WISEMAN:
John Donovan [[email protected]]: Fri 05/10/2007 15:46
Dear Mr Brandjes
Thank you for your unambiguous but rather surprising response. As far as I know, Shell is not even a sponsor of the Tour de Sakhalin project. I am sure you will understand that we retain the right to offer donations to any charity or worthy cause whether or not associated with Shell, irrespective of any threats made by Shell. It would be up to the organiser/potential beneficiary of any such donation to decide whether to accept or reject a donation.
It seemed to us that it would be better for good causes to benefit from our website rather than a potential source of revenue to help fund worthy initiatives remaining untapped. It also seemed appropriate that good causes associated with Shell should benefit given the sites strong connection with Shell as demonstrated by the numerous media articles about the site and the fact that the news media recognises us as a reliable source of insider information.
As you are aware, the site has such a high profile that we attract job applications, business proposals and even terrorist threats meant for Shell. As you will also recall, we even recently passed on to you an enquiry from another oil company who self-evidently found it easier to make contact with Shell via our user friendly website than any other available means. As you know, we always deal politely and properly with all such enquiries even though we are an unpaid resource.
Because we have so many Shell related domain names and over 17,000 articles on the internet, the vast majority of which relate to Shell, anyone searching for information about Shell will inevitably end up at our website. You have not disputed that our “Shell” website has vastly more traffic than your own portal website. It has been used by the news media, US PIRC, the WWF, The World Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility, MOSOP and by US class action lawyers to communicate with Shell stakeholders/insiders. We provide a useful free conduit for such organisations.
Although unpalatable to your management, the plain fact is that our website is now inseverable from the activities of Royal Dutch Shell. That association is strengthening as time passes and more Shell insiders realise that we are trustworthy and unafraid to publish news and criticism of Shell related events and expose Shell management misdeeds.
The scope of information and leaks we receive from Shell insider sources is demonstrated by our correspondence today on another matter.
It is not as if the website is peddling porn or engaging in any other unsavoury activity. We merely exercise our right to criticise Shell on the Internet as accepted by Shell in the unsuccessful attempt via the World Intellectual Property Organisation to seize the dotcom domain name for your company Royal Dutch Shell Plc.
The following is the relevant extract from the complaint filed by Shell International Limited.
“The Complainant and the Group it represents have been aware of the site since the beginning and whilst they would not endorse or agree with many of the comments made by the Respondent on the website, they have taken the view that the Respondent is entitled to express his opinions and to use the Internet as a medium for doing so.”
If the uncharitable response by Shell is prompted by our recent article concerning Shell litigation in Malaysia, I would point out that the senior Judge in the Appeal Court decision on the “Team A” Retirement Fund case brought by 399 former Shell employees, Chief Judge Abdul Aziz Mohamad, is personally implicated in the corruption scandal. This is confirmed by an article published on the Malaysian Bar website on 4 October 2007. He is one of the Judges who outrageously ruled that Shell is incapable of wrongdoing. That is a complete travesty in view of Shell’s verified track record as set out in the Wikipedia article:
As you are probable aware, the Malaysian judiciary scandal led to an unprecedented protest march last week by 800 Malaysian lawyers demanding a Royal Commission Investigation into endemic judicial corruption in Malaysia where justice can be bought by the highest bidder. We have worked out that while the case drags on year after year, the original number of plaintiff participants decreases at a rate of approximately one former Shell employee every 52 days. This is because many are elderly, sick, and dying. And of course the rate of age related attrition will be accelerating.
Despite the threats we have decided to carry out a pilot run for a limited period of the Google Adsense scheme on the basis set out i.e. with every penny being donated to a Shell related worthy cause. It would have been nice to have had Shell’s support. If Shell wishes to take action so be it. I would be obliged if you could kindly notify me of any such proceedings as my father who owns the domain name is, as you know, 90 years old.
The bottom line is that our website is an unmitigated PR disaster for Shell but a boon to free speech and to Shell stakeholders.