Firm Accused Of Net Name Piracy
Webhound has purchased the rights to 15,000 names
A company has been accused of piracy after bulk buying the internet names of thousands of British villages.
Webhound Ltd spent £75,000 in purchasing the valuable 'co.uk' versions of 15,000 village names.
The company paid £5 for each name from the UK licensing authority Nominet and has now offered to sell them back to village groups at a minimum cost of £500 each with an expected profit of £7.5m.
Company was first to register names The move has infuriated politicians and community representatives who have demanded a review of internet name licensing.
But Webhound has denied the accusations and said it saw itself as a web "pilot" and not a "pirate".
Managing director Angela Barrow said: "What we have done is perfectly legal.
"Domain names can be registered by anyone.
"Anyone can think of a name, add '.co.uk'. Whoever gets there first gets it."
In a statement on Webhound's website, Ms Barrow says it is not company policy to give anyone a discount on the registered names and that she "did not care" what the world thought.
Names included in the buy-up included the famous Scottish villages of Bannockburn, where Robert the Bruce defeated the English, and Crathie, where the Royal Family attends church when at Balmoral.
The sale only came to light when people in the Scottish village of Balfron sought to register the name 'Balfron.co.uk', only to find that Webhound got there first.
Mike Stone, Balfron community council chairman, told The Herald newspaper: "The name Balfron is unique and Balfron.co.uk should be owed by the villagers. We won't cough up that sort of ransom. This company's practice is not something I approve of.
"This is an area of the internet where there should be tight regulations. To start asking a community to pay for their own name is totally over the top."
George Reid, Scottish National Party MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said: "While the internet is currently unregulated, it is absurd that a lady of the manor in Suffolk can scoop up Scotland.
"I will follow this up so that, when local communities go on the web, as they shall, local connections are kept."
Lisa Forsythe, intellectual property specialist at Glasgow law firm Bird Semple said: "The courts have taken a dim view of so-called cybersquatting.
"In recent cases involving Scottish Widows, Marks and Spencer, Dixons and Harrods, there was a requirement for those who did not have a legitimate excuse for using the name to transfer it to the appropriate party."