A lawyer and former director of .au domain space regulator AuDa is encouraging restaurants which had websites set up by Menulog to join a group complaint against the delivery platform amid concern its partner deals contain unfair contract terms.
Eaglegate lawyers principal Nicole Murdoch has today launched a campaign to organise a Menulog partner “fight back” to reclaim domain names she says were “hijacked” by the takeaway giant.
SmartCompany revealed last week Menulog has been creating websites for small restaurants and cafes by default, at times without their knowledge, and laying claim to domain names.
Businesses SmartCompany has spoken with said they were unaware the Menulog websites existed until recently, despite being members of the platform for years.
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Menulog has denied wrongdoing, disputing the claims and saying it does not automatically purchase domain names for restaurants, and runs a service to return domains to businesses no longer on the platform.
In a statement issued in response to the campaign today, a spokesperson for the company reiterated the businses doesn’t automatically purchase domain names for partners.
Menulog unequivocally does not automatically purchase domain names for restaurant partners,” the spokesperson said.
“This is not and never will be an automatic or default process. Menulog offers a service to restaurant partners that do not have their own websites where they can opt in to have a templated website built and hosted free of charge.
“This service is designed to help restaurants generate more online orders, through multiple channels, when they begin online ordering and delivery with Menulog.
“Any restaurant, at any time, can have this domain transferred into their name. Some restaurants do choose to do this and some restaurants prefer the Menulog technology team continue to manage this on their behalf.”
“The process for transfer is a simply request via email to email@example.com. The transfer usually takes two business days. More than 200 restaurant domains have been transferred to restaurant partners.”
However, a Menulog restaurant agreement reviewed by SmartCompany outlines how Menulog may create a website for a business at any time unless the business requests otherwise in writing.
Menulog is permitted to use the business’ name, menu and logo, while all other intellectual property on the website remains property of Menulog.
The agreement stipulates the websites can be removed or disabled at the request of the business, or “at any time and for any reason” by Menulog. The platform also appears to retain ownership of the domain name in such cases, retaining the right to re-use them for “other purposes as it sees fit”.
In the wake of SmartCompany’s initial report last week the small business ombudsman is also looking into the issue and is examining Menulog’s standard restaurant agreements for unfair contract terms.
Many of the domains have since been released and return no websites, others link through to pages created by Menulog on behalf of restaurants.
One domain analysed by SmartCompany, cronullapizzapidekebabs.com.au, redirects back to Eatnow’s main Australian website. The business itself no longer exists, acquired by new owners and renamed in 2018.
IT consultant Jessica Reesby told SmartCompany last week she was unable to set up a website for a small restaurant client because of Menulog.
“They’re a couple of business owners from overseas, not very technical people, and they engaged us to work on their marketing and build an online site after they had some success selling through UberEats and Menulog,” she said.
“I went to buy the domain name which was the exact name of their business, and straight away I could see it was already taken.”
Murdoch, a former director of .au domain regulator AuDa, believes Menulog’s actions are in breach of domain registration rules.
“We’re going to help restaurants send a very strong message that having unfair contract terms that cannot be avoided, reserving domain names and refusing to transfer those domain names to their rightful owners is unconscionable and will not be tolerated,” she said in a statement.
“More than ever small businesses have to ensure they retain control of the intellectual property of their enterprise. They may be aware of threats from competitors but it’s a kick in the guts to have their IP hijacked by a business partner,” she says.
AuDA’s domain registration rules stipulate domains must either be “an exact match, abbreviation or acronym of the registrant’s name or trademark” or otherwise “closely and substantially connected to the registrant”.
Guidelines for what’s deemed “close or substantially connected” are broad, including services, activities, events or products the registrant provides or operates.