The name game

If I could turn back time on a few life decisions, I would do just three things differently: one concert I would attend, one boy I would kiss, and one domain name I would register. Truly, it is good to have such a simple and regret-free life. (And I’ll bet I could get a do-over on the boy if I really wanted to.)

Of course, regret is a useless sentiment, especially where the Net is concerned. After all, just because a person registers a domain doesn’t mean, in this day and age, that it’s theirs. Consider if you will these strange days of late 1999, in which we learn that acquiring a domain name first doesn’t mean you get to keep it, that the current Web climate is singularly inhospitable to parody and satire, and that e-commerce is so ungodly profitable that you don’t even have to be in it to win it.

Our first contestant in this week’s what-is-the-world-coming-to sweepstakes is the site formerly known as etoy.com, which got summarily de-com.missioned last Monday by a judge in Los Angeles. The judge was responding to a lawsuit filed by toy merchant eToys.com, which claimed that the s-less ones were diluting their trademark, confusing the public, frightening the horses, and otherwise doing bad things for which they ought to have their domain taken away.

Sounds like a basic case of domain-squatting, where some skeevy outfit tries to skim off mistyping visitors from an established site for their own nefarious purposes. Right? Wrong. etoy (no s) registered their site in October 1995; eToys (with s) didn’t get online till October 1997. etoy is an award-winning international arts collective; eToys sells mass-market plastic crap to spoiled children. On the face of it there’s no overlap and hence no infringement, but Judge John P. Shook—who demanded that etoy folk fly in from Europe to present their case, then whipped out a pre-written injunction forcing etoy to pull down their site until after this all-important shopping season—is clearly not a man accustomed to looking people in the face. etoy is on the side of the angels, according to most legal observers. However, it’s not the observers but the paid lawyers that make the difference in these matters. According to etoy spokespeople, eToys.com offered approximately $500,000 in cash and stock to get etoy to simply walk away from the domain; what multiple of that do you suppose they’ll spend on legal beagles? And how much do you suppose your average art collective has available to spend on legal aid? Yeah. etoy is taking a spunky approach, putting their site back online at 146.228.204.72:8080, but don’t expect this Christmas story to end happily ever after.

And then there’s gatt.org, put online by the most excellent satirists and social critics of rtmark.com. Apparently the WTO folk didn’t have enough to worry about last week, since they took time from their busy schedules to harangue rtmark for providing a “disservice” to the public by putting up Web sites with domain names that might confuse passersby. rtmark, in turn, is accusing the WTO of putting up a fake Web site, inasmuch as the official WTO site claims to be “transparent” and yet posts tens of thousands of somewhat opaque official documents. That’s the spirit, rtmark folks—a good offense is the best defense!

Of course, these aren’t the only online wits pissing off corporate fat cats: George W. Bush has a burr the size of a tennis ball in his saddle over the continuing depredations of gwbush.com. That obvious-to-the-casual-observer parody site is run by a fellow named Zach Exley, who’s turning out some of the Net’s best examples of why GWB is utterly unfitted to run a fraternity mixer, much less the country. GW Bush, heir-presumptive to the stewardship of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, has gone on the record calling Exley a “garbage man” and opining that “there ought to be limits to freedom.” Like the site says, “It’s the hypocrisy, stupid.”

How insane is the current domain-name climate? Our last subject of observation this week is business.com, a Web site that at the moment consists of one welcome page and one press release announcing its own sale to a couple of overripe idiots to the tune of $7.5 million dollars, strictly for the domain name. That works out to just about $618,181.18 per letter. Per letter.

Even better, new millionaire Marc Ostrofsky bought the domain three years ago from a British firm, paying $150,000 (which seemed like a lot of money at the time). The folks at bidness.com —registered September 1996—better buckle down for a bumpy, high-altitude ride.

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