Hanger Holdings Ltd v Perlake Corporation SA

19 January 2021

Jonathan Hill acted for the successful claimant in proceedings seeking to recover the valuable domain name blackjack.com from the defendant Simon Croft.  In finding for the claimant the English High Court for the first time held that a domain name was a form of intangible personal property, following the approach taken by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

The claimant had transferred the domain name to a Uruguayan company controlled by the defendant under a contract which provided that a share of the revenues made from the website at the domain name be paid to the claimant.  The contract also contained a right to re-transfer of the domain name in the event the contract was terminated by the claimant for breach. The company did not pay any revenue share and did not supply the accounting information required by the contract that might have shown no share was due. The judge, HHJ Hacon, held that on the facts that this amounted to a material breach entitling the claimant to terminate.

By the time the proceedings were commenced, however, the domain name had been transferred from the company to the defendant personally, after the company entered liquidation in early 2015 following Uruguayan legislative changes relating to companies owned by bearer shares. The question therefore arose as to whether the claimant remained the owner of the domain name in equity following the transfer to the defendant.  HHJ Hacon held that it did, as the domain name was personal property and so equitable interests could subsist in it.

The judge also held that the defendant had fabricated a loan agreement he sought to rely upon as justification for the transfer of the domain name from the company to himself.  The judge found that the loan agreement had been created in 2015 rather than 2005, as the defendant maintained.

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