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Wikipedia: 13 August 2006 VERSION

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13 August 2006 VERSION

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The website is operated by Alfred Donovan and his son John Donovan, both of whom are critics of the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell.

The Internet provides a low cost public platform for anyone, even of modest means, to reach a global audience via what are known as “gripe” or “sucks” websites. It is the high-tech equivalent of having a soap box at “Speakers Corner” in Hyde Park, London – that long-established bastion of free speech.

The web gives ordinary individuals the opportunity to publicly criticise the rich and powerful, including multinational corporations.

There have been important recent developments in case law regarding gripe websites. One such decision in August 2005 by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (the WIPO), was in respect of a website

Due to an oversight, the management of the Royal Dutch Shell Group had not registered the dotcom name for the new company which resulted from the unification in 2005, of The “Shell” Transport and Trading Company Plc and the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company Limited.

The domain name had already been registered by Alfred Donovan, who exploited a loophole which allows an online critic to legally use a dotcom domain name identical to a target company’s name or trademark. To fall within this category, the gripe site must be non-commercial, with no subscriptions and no paid advertising. To avoid being considered a “cybersquatter”, the domain name and associated website must be active, with no attempt made to sell the domain name, especially to the company holding rights to the corresponding trademark or company name.

Shell also attempted to obtain via the same WIPO proceedings, two other Donovan owned domain names: and

The WIPO, acting for the panel of experts appointed to adjudicate the action, notified the Complainant, Shell International Petroleum Company Limited, and the Respondent, Alfred Donovan, that it was an exceptional case. This allowed the panel more time to consider the complex issues involved. The proceedings generated global media interest. The following is an extract from an article published on 2 June 2005 by The Wall Street Journal(“Shell wages legal fight over web domain name”),: “Later this summer, oil giant Royal Dutch/Shell Group is expected to merge its two parent companies, creating a new corporate entity: Royal Dutch Shell PLC. But go to and you will find a crude Web site in garish colors where Alfred Donovan, an 88-year-old British army veteran, posts dozens of media reports and commentary, most of it negative, about Shell and the accounting scandal that plagued it last year. Just after Shell unveiled the name of the new entity last October, Mr. Donovan — who has had frequent legal battles with Shell — snapped up the rights to the Web site.” The Times newspaper also published features at the commencement of the WIPO proceedings [(Hostile domain)] and after they had been concluded.

Ideal features of a “gripe” website

The success of a gripe website depends on the subject and whether the content is of continuing interest, otherwise the website is unlikely to attract repeat visits. With this in mind, the website uses a news based format focused on the activities of a targeted company (in this case Royal Dutch Shell). As a result, the content on the site is topical and changes several times every day. All Shell related news articles are published irrespective of whether they contain positive or negative news about Shell.

Together with its associated websites, and, over 9,000 web pages of information about Royal Dutch Shell are freely available and searchable. The search facility provides a permanent record of all articles. This is useful because most news based websites only keep an article displayed online for a short period of time. On the site there is also a “blog” facility where visitors can post comments. There is also a “live chat” feature.

The WWF (World Wildlife Fund), U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group)The World Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility,Reuters news agency, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, and U.S. class action lawyers, Bernstein Liebhard & Lifshitz LLPhave all used the Donovan website to communicate with Shell shareholders and Shell employees.

In July 2006 Fortune magazine published a feature on recommended books and websites relating to the world’s top five companies under the headline: “Executive bookmark: What does it take to be big? To learn more about the top five companies, check out these books and websites.” The five listed companies were ExxonMobilWal-MartRoyal Dutch ShellBP and General Motors. A company website and a corresponding “gripe” site were featured. For Royal Dutch Shell, listed as number 3 in the rankings, Shell’s portal website was cited along with The feature was republished on on 2 August 2006. The purpose of recommending a book about each of the top five multinational giants in conjunction with the company website and a website containing a counter presentation of information and facts, is to allow the public, investors and shareholders to arrive at a balanced view.

The use of the website by so many organisations and the fact that the site is now recommended by Fortune magazine as a prime source of information about the Royal Dutch Shell Group, demonstrates the potential of a low cost gripe website to make a significant global impact.

A gripe site provides a powerful medium to focus public attention on a deeply held grievance and any associated issues, possibly gaining some moral satisfaction in the process (in addition to embarrassing a targeted party). However, any allegations and comments published on a gripe website must be well founded, or otherwise grounds for a defamation action could arise.

Defence options available to a targeted company

Companies, organisations and individuals targeted by gripe websites have a number of options available to them. The website can simply be ignored, which may be the best course of action if it consists of a single web page which draws little attention. If a site is making an impact, then an attempt can be made to seize the domain name through an appropriate body, such as the WIPO. Alternatively, an approach is sometimes made to the company hosting the website if the targeted company believes that it has grounds to ask the host company to close the site. Another possible line of action is to bring defamation proceedings if anything published on a gripe site is untrue.

Shell high court proceedings involving website

In June 2004, eight Royal Dutch Shell Group companies collectively obtained an Interim Injunction and Restraining Order in the High Court of Malay against a Shell whistleblower, a Malaysian geologist and former Shell employee, Dr John Huong in respect of alleged defamatory postings by Dr Huong on a Donovan website. The Shell litigation is directed solely against Dr Huong. Further proceedings against Dr Huong were issued by the same plaintiff companies in 2006 in respect of publications on the Donovan websites in 2005 and 2006. The further proceedings include a “Notice to Show Cause” relating to a “contempt of court” action potentially punishable by imprisonment. The contempt hearing and a related application by the eight Royal Dutch Shell plaintiff companies for Dr Huong to produce Alfred Donovan for cross-examination in connection with an affidavit Donovan provided, is scheduled to be heard in the High Court of Malay in Kuala Lumpur on 17th August 2006.

Importance of online reputation

In May 2006, it was reported that Shell intends to appoint a digital agency with “experience in turning around corporate reputations” (Campaign Magazine: “Shell seeks agency for online makeover”).

External links

Times Online report mentioning the case

This page was last edited on 13 August 2006, at 10:11 (UTC).

This website and sisters,,,, and, are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia segment.

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