By: David Noack
Papers sue after scam draws surfers seeking
newspaper sites to white supremacist site
Web surfers expecting to see the Philadelphia Inquirer or Albuquerque Tribune online were whisked to a white supremacist Web site by someone who registered all or part of the newspapers’ names as Internet domain names.
At least a dozen newspapers were targeted the week of Oct. 6 in a scheme to use newspaper names to lure users to a white-supremacist Web site. Users typed in what they thought was the URL, or Web address, of a newspaper and found themselves at Stormfront.org, a self-described “resource” for “courageous men and women fighting to preserve their White Western culture.” The site has links to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s home page, articles on the failure of race relations and downloadable Nazi-style graphics.
The newspapers responded quickly when they found out ? from users or independently ? about the maneuver. They went to court for injunctions or sent “cease and desist” letters to enforce their trademark rights.
Targeted newspapers included: the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Examiner, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Sun-Times, Atlanta Constitution, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Albuquerque Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, London Telegraph and the Arizona Reporter, an online news site.
The newspapers already have domain names, such as Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.’s phillynews.com and San Francisco Examiner’s examiner.com. But the URL variations included names like philadelphiainquirer.com and sanfranciscoexaminer.com.
The Chicago Sun-Times went to federal court and won a temporary restraining order. A hearing on a preliminary injunction is slated for Oct. 19.
In court documents, the Sun-Times said users informed the paper Oct. 6, via
e-mail and phone, to say they had keyed in what they believed to be the paper’s Web address but got Stormfront.
The newspaper-like domain names were registered to MKM, P.O. Box 1253 in Suisun City, Calif. One newspaper lawyer said the post office box is registered to a woman, whom he declined to name, and were still trying to determine whether she was the person who registered the domain names.
Don Black, 45, of West Palm Beach, Fla., the owner of Stormfront, denied any involvement in the routing high jinks, but said he knew the California man who registered the domain names.
“I have no control over the domain names or the person who owns them,” Black said. “I’ve asked the owner to stop using the META refresh tags to forward users to my site, and that request has now been honored.”
Someone was directing users from the newspaper domain names, which were registered earlier this month, to the white supremacist site by using special computer codes.
Whoever registered the domain names was banking people would err on actual newspaper URLs, said Damon E. Dunn, an attorney for the Sun-Times who spoke critically of Network Solutions Inc., the Herndon, Va., company that registers domain names.
“Apparently, all they do is look for an exact match. They ask you to make a representation, but they don’t check to make sure you exist, and they certainly don’t do anything like a trademark search that you would expect from the PTO [Patent and Trademark Office]. Instead, if there’s not an exact match, they’ll register the name on a first-come, first-serve basis,” said Dunn.
NSI spokeswoman Cheryl Regan said the URL registration organization can’t police trademarks. Policy calls for issuing domain names “on a first-come, first-serve basis,” and then processing conflicts when and if companies “feel there is some violation of their trademark,” Regan said.
Sources speculated that registering variations of the newspaper’s domain names was a way to get publicity for the controversial Web site and not an effort to battle over the rights to the Web addresses.
The domain name registration process has come under attack from corporations whose trademarks ? or close facsimiles ? have been registered for a small fee to Network Solutions.
In a cyber-squatting case last year, a Maryland man registered the masthead names of the Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Chicago Tribune and the Tampa Tribune, but there were no links to any Web sites. The newspapers filed a trademark infringement suit. The case was settled on two conditions: the newspapers got the domain names, and the man paid a small amount of money to a charity chosen by each paper.
Attorney David Bralow, a partner at Holland & Knight who handled the cyber-squatting case, said it would be impossible to register every variation of a trademark to prevent infringement.
“If you put the burden on the newspaper to foresee the variations, the newspaper will always be stumped because of the creativity of those who operate in this genre. It is better to rely on the laws protecting against trademark infringement, dilution and unfair competition,” said Bralow.
Fritz Byers, general counsel for Blade Communications, which owns the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Toledo, Ohio, Blade, said that Network Solutions canceled the domain name registration for pittsburghpost.com and the newspaper is considering whether to register that domain name.
Fred Mann, general manager of Philly Online, said the case is a clear violation of trademark law.
“We looked at it and immediately went to our lawyers because this is a trademark name, and it shouldn’t be happening,” said Mann.
Mann also questioned whether Network Solutions should be more aggressive in notifying trademark owners of potential violations.
“Certain addresses such as philadelphiainquirer.com must have been somehow available for registration with this company, Network Solutions, and so I guess they sold both the names. I thought that Network Solutions had a policy that said if it’s obvious that somebody owns this name, we won’t sell it to you, but I guess not. Maybe you can have it unless somebody complains, and then we’ll fight it out,” said Mann.
?(Brian L. Steffens, new senior vice president for news) [Photo & Caption]
?(The newspapers, and the registered URLs used to reroute news seekers to a white supremacist site.
Arizona Reporter (online newspaper)
Salt Lake Tribune
Cleveland Plain Dealer
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
San Jose Mercury News
San Francisco Examiner
?(The operator of Stormfront, above, says he had no role in routing news seekers to his Hitleresque site.) [Photo & Caption]
?( Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com)[Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher October 17, 1998) [Caption]