Lawyers put pen to paper over website wrangle, writes George Cole
The schools technology agency Becta has instructed a top legal firm to order a secondary school to stop using an internet domain name and hand it over to the agency free of charge.
North Chadderton school in Oldham, an 11-18 comprehensive, runs a website called www.becta.org to promote open-source software. But the name is almost identical to the agency's website www.becta.org.uk
The school's head of science, Dr Martyn Overy, set up the site to offer free, downloadable resources for non-commercial use by teachers and students.
Dr Overy dubbed the scheme "bringing educational creativity to all", hence the Becta label. He registered the name three years after the technology agency, which adopted the title in 1998.
When the similarity came to light, the agency instructed the solicitors Radcliffes LeBrasseur to write to the school and Dr Overy, an action likely to have cost thousands of pounds.
The letter suggested that the domain name was designed to take traffic away from the agency's site and recommended the name be given to the agency free of charge. It also implied that further action might be taken if the school did not comply.
Philip Hayes, head of North Chadderton, said the school had been in informal talks with the agency over the use of the name.
"I was surprised and a bit shocked when I received the letter, especially as I thought we had resolved the matter six months ago," he added.
Mr Hayes said the two sides had agreed that the school site would carry a link to the agency's website, and that in any case the becta.org title "belongs to Dr Overy, not the school".
Dr Overy denied that his site had been set up to steer traffic away from the agency's website.
"Look at the statistics on our site - we get about 200 hits a day, which must be miniscule to what Becta gets," he said.
He described www.becta.org as a not-for-profit site and denied being a "cyber-squatter" - someone who buys up domain names of organisations with the aim of selling them back for profit.
"If anything, I am out of pocket," he said.
But after The TES contacted Becta about the issue, the agency apologised to the school.
Nicola Newman, Becta's director of communications, said: "We acted too quickly and I have apologised to the school for any distress caused. This should not have happened without more consideration. The school has always been very supportive."
But the agency said the issue remains unresolved and it is now deciding on what action to take.
Dr Overy said the agency's action may have been prompted by an article on his website, criticising Becta's agreement with Microsoft to sell software licences to schools at a reduced price (www.becta.orgpostnukemodules.php?op=modloadamp;name=Newsamp;file=articleamp;sid=10 9amp;mode=threadamp;order=0amp;thold=0).
He has since "pruned" his site's links to the North Chadderton site (www.webschool.org.uk) and says he may even abandon the "becta" label in favour of "openschool. org.uk". But he said he is still upset that the agency felt the need to take legal action.