Hackers blamed for beauty giants' legal wrestle

The owner of New Zealand domain lush.co.nz today said hackers may have redirected the site to The Body Shop's international Web site, raising the spectre pranksters may have sparked the serious legal dispute building between it and rival Lush Cosmetics yesterday.

The owner of New Zealand domain lush.co.nz today said hackers may have redirected the site to The Body Shop's international Web site, raising the spectre pranksters may have sparked the serious legal dispute building between it and rival Lush Cosmetics yesterday.

Lush yesterday accused The Body Shop of breaching trademark regulations and threatened to sue its rival for lost sales after a customer stumbled onto the fact that the www.lush.co.nz URL was redirecting to The Body Shop's Web site.

Valerie Henderson, Lush Cosmetics' New Zealand country manager, yesterday said she was "shocked that a company that has built its reputation on its integrity would act so unethically".

However, Mark Fulton, who registered the domain name in April 1999, today denied any affiliation with The Body Shop and said he believed the redirection may have been the work of malicious hackers.

"I am unsure how the redirect was put in place suffice to say that someone may have hacked my password. I have since changed the password," Fulton wrote in correspondence with ZDNet Australia today.

Fulton, who pulled the site down yesterday after being contacted by The Body Shop, then invited Lush to take the domain into their care "before the situation got out of hand" and so that he was "not faced with this potential problem again".

However, Lush Cosmetics New Zealand today received Fulton's claim with a significant degree of scepticism.

"We are happy the redirection of the site has now been taken down, but we are still investigating why Lush could not buy that domain name back in 1999 and why Mark [Fulton] did not return any of the Lush's phone calls in regards to this matter last week," she said.

The Body Shop, which today angrily denied having played any part in the incident, and any affiliation with Fulton, was today preparing to strike back over the matter.

"We are deeply concerned that there has been an attempt to bring our brand into disrepute and we are currently conducting an investigation in which we will contact all parties concerned to establish the facts of this issue," wrote the company's regional marketing director, Nicky Tracey, in a communiqué with ZDNet Australia today.

However, Lush Cosmetics was also sticking to its guns. The company said it was preparing to release more information in connection with the incident following consultation with its United Kingdom headquarters.