Italy's biggest private broadcaster has lost its right to use the international Internet domain www.mediaset.com after failing to renew its registration and losing an appeal to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) last month.
A Mediaset spokesman declined to comment Wednesday on the company's bureaucratic slip up. "We have no official comment to make," said spokesman Angelo Santoro. "We will continue to pursue all the legal avenues that are open to us."
In the meantime, mediaset.com belongs to a Delaware company, Fenicius LLC, and its owner, Didier Madiba, who says he intends to use the website to sell "media sets" or "backup media of complete operating systems."
A beta version of the site Wednesday was offering four IBM System Storage products for sale, but not all the internal links were working.
Mediaset's attempt to recover ownership of the domain was rejected by the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center in a ruling dated Feb. 4.
In its complaint Mediaset, which owns the .it, .net and .info domains associated with its name, argued that Madiba's domain name was confusingly similar to the Mediaset trademark and was being used in bad faith. It said the U.S.-based businessman had no legitimate interest in the domain name.
Madiba responded that he had acquired the domain name a year ago after winning an auction through Snapnames.com and that he intended to exploit the generic sense of the words media and set. He had been unable to put his business plan into action after being diagnosed with cancer, Madiba said.
A source familiar with the situation said Mediaset's administrative error was unlikely to have any economic impact on the company, since it had not been using the .com domain.
The company currently has a case open against Madiba in Rome's civil court and has the option of renewing its appeal to WIPO if the .com site is used in a manner likely to cause trademark confusion. A third option would be to buy the site back from Madiba, "which would, in itself, demonstrate that he had been acting in bad faith and for a speculative purpose," the source said.
Italian commentators said the administrative slip up was indicative of an underestimation of the importance of the Internet by Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister who owns Mediaset and who has built his financial and political fortune on the medium of television.
Others suggested it was revenge for Berlusconi's attempts to curtail the freedom of the Web while he was in power.