Robert Tyler of Walthamstow launched the site in 2007 to publicise ‘horror stories’ about Ryanair’s services. Now he’s been ordered to hand over his (beautifully blunt) domain name to Michael O’Leary’s outfit - which he describes as ‘the world’s most hated airline’ - principally because the site started making money.
So, not just a case of spotting an opportunity then? Not according to the budget carrier. Ryanair was angry that the website took unfair advantage of its name, and claimed it hosted damaging and defamatory articles - including false comments about the airline’s safety, maintenance and operating standards.
But the problem wasn't so much that Tyler was slagging the airline off. The defendant was able to argue to Nominet, the body that resolves domain name disputes in the UK, that it wasn’t defamatory – because there was already so much dissatisfaction with Ryanair’s services that he wasn’t actually damaging its reputation (worrying enough in itself, we'd argue). Adjudicator Jane Seager agreed that Tyler’s critical content didn’t constitute 'unfair disruption'. Rather, she said, it was actually trying to draw attention to its issues in order to resolve them.
The problem came with Tyler making money from sponsored links to other sites selling travel insurance and foreign currency – £322, to be exact – and from Ryanair’s trademark appearing in the domain name without its owner's consent.
We’d have thought O’Leary would have nothing but respect for someone making a few quid by generating negative feeling in ways no one else had previously thought to explore. He is the man aiming to introduce air travel’s first pay-as-you-go toilets, after all.
O’Leary’s crew may be happy playing the role of the victim in this case, but they’re no strangers to throwing their toys out the pram from 30,000 feet when they want to. Just take this weekend’s threat to quit its base in Marseille, because prosecutors in the city (which is Ryanair’s Mediterranean hub) took umbrage at the airline registering 120 French employees as working in Ireland.
Tyler has a week to appeal this ruling before he has to hand over the domain to Ryanair. Knowing O’Leary, arch cash-generator that he is, he’ll probably find some way to make money from it himself if he does get hold of it. And it’ll be more than a few hundred quid.