Apple is attempting to wrest control of a domain name from a UK entrepreneur, but faces a tough fight from the current owner of the Web address.

At issue is the www.itunes.co.uk domain name, which Apple legal insists is owned by CyberBritain Holdings CEO Benjamin Cohen illegally. Apple accuses Cohen of cybersquatting the name - despite Cohen's proof that he registered the name for one of his businesses weeks before the computer company went public with iTunes.

Cohen told Macworld: "I understand that Apple wants and needs this domain name, but the company could have dealt with this four years ago when we registered it, we would have been happy to sell it to them then."

Apple's legal firm Baker & McKenzie first contacted Cohen on November 5, demanding he hand over ownership of the domain. They claimed it belonged to Apple and threatened legal action to repossess it.

Standing up to bullies

Smaller operators may have felt threatened, Cohen told Macworld: "Now we own it and feel bullied by them, we're fighting this all the way and believe we have a very strong case." Cohen saw success during the nineties dotcom boom.

Facing resistance, Apple's next move was to file a case with UK domain name registrar, Nominet, alleging Cohen to be a "cybersquatter". Cohen has until December 30 to respond. Apple will issue its response to cohen's points, and a hearing will be scheduled early next year, Cohen confirmed.

Though he has never used a Mac, Cohen feels anger at the company's attitude: "They are taking on a company run by someone who should be their ideal customer, a twenty-something male who likes music and has a bit of spare cash. I think that by pursuing me they will alienate customers and show that their cult anti-corporate status is not deserved in the slightest," he exclaimed.

No malicious intent

Cohen dismisses the notion that he's a cybersquatter. He acquired the domain name on November 7, 2000 as part of a tranche of domains he would use to forward traffic to CyberBritain's Web site network. While it's correct that Apple filed for a trademark on the name iTunes with the UK patent office on October 27, Cohen could not have been aware of this until December 6, 2000, when the application was published in the UK Trademarks journal.

Apple was granted the trademark on March 23, 2001. Strangely, this trademark did not cover use in association with music products. Apple has a long-standing disagreement with The Beatles regarding its association with music products. Apple has not yet won the trademark for the iTunes Music Store in the UK, though it applied for this in April 2003, reports MacObserver.

Stand up for your rights

Cohen believes he has a strong case - and is prepared to take that case to the High Court. He told MacObserver: "The general gist is that 'We're Apple and you're not.' They're acting as a big brand owner and saying we don't have any rights. We do have rights and I'm not going to bullied into giving them something they don't own."

Aware of recent news regarding iTunes Music Store prices in Europe, an annoyed Cohen told Macworld: "I'm sure that the iTunes service is great but why charge different prices in different markets? Sure the costs differ between markets but there should not be price discrimination across the EU. If other retailers have tracks at a lower price than Apple or do bundles like Napster then why can't they offer a similar proposition?"

Apple declined comment.