More Domain Name Funny Business ... at Newspapers' Expense

By: Steve Outing (Warning: This column contains links that may be objectionable to some readers. Click with caution.)

Have you visited the,,,, or Web sites recently? Prepare for an eyeful. While these Web site addresses sure look like the URLs for prominent newspaper Web sites, they'll rather transport you to pornography sites.

While some might applaud this as an innovative way for aggressive Web entrepreneurs to gain additional traffic to their sites -- trading off the mistyping of Web users trying to reach the real sites of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Newspapers, London Times, and Detroit News -- those publishers aren't so thrilled at this example of Internet creativity. They've been (ahem) aroused to action.

This practice of individuals and businesses buying domain names that are common misspellings of high-profile Web sites like those of newspapers seems to be growing. As busy news sites attract more and more traffic, hungry entrepreneurs see the opportunity to grab some of that traffic. The idea is simple enough: Purchase a domain that is a common mistyping of a busy site. Think of all the traffic you'll get from people who really intended to go to if you own, for example.

Another legal question

Is this legal? There's no absolute answer to this, since no legal challenge to this practice has made it through the courts yet. (However, a lawsuit over a similar practice is in the courts, filed by the Tribune Company and Times-Mirror against a Maryland man who purchased domain names with newspaper names like and refused to give them up.) Most publishers who have noticed these "para-sites" are giving their lawyers marching orders to send out cease and desist letters demanding that the para-site owners stop using the newspaper-like URLs.

At the Philadelphia Online newspaper site, general manager Fred Mann says his staff just learned about, which points to a pornography Web site, "when a user messaged us about it. She said she was appalled when she accidentally mistyped our URL. ... Imagine our delight."

Philadelphia Newspapers' legal staff is in the process of contacting the owners of the domain, and will demand that they cease using it. Mann says that the lawyers will claim that use of that domain is "trademark dilution," which becomes an issue when someone moves so close to your trademark claim that it can undermine the value of your trademark. Mann says his company takes this issue seriously and moved quickly to contact the owners.

The Los Angeles Times Web site also has a para-site --, which redirects traffic to a hard-core pornography site. Times associate general counsel Karlene Goller says her company is aware of and has sent a cease and desist letter to the domain owners. If they refuse, the Times is prepared to file a lawsuit claiming a trademark violation. She says that the domain name is confusing consumers, some of whom have contacted the newspaper company and think that the Times is sponsoring a sex site. "It's just a flat-out misidentification of services," Goller says.

And the Detroit News, which uses the domain, is not thrilled about the domain, which points to a porn site. Internet manager and assistant managing editor Nancy Malitz says her paper, which belongs to the Gannett chain, is considering what to do and may be able to leverage the legal resources of Gannett corporate to get to be closed down. (Note: I was not able to get my Web browser to call up the porn site, though Malitz was able to verify that it was still in operation when I interviewed her.)

According to a domain name ownership search using Internic's Whois search, the domains, and are owned by "Success Motivational Healing Institute" and "Domain 4 Sale & Company," both of which have the same postal address in Sherman Oaks, California. and are owned by "Global Net 2000, Inc." in Encino, California.

Contacted by e-mail about the newspaper site-like URLs, a representative of "Domain 4 Sale," who did not give a name, responded, "Network Solutions (maintainer of Internet domain names) never told me anything about this and I paid for all the name (sic) legally." Listed as administrative contacts in the Internic domain name registry for the, and domains are Laleh Hejazy and Saeid Yomtobian.

High-profile target

USA Today also has been a frequent target of para-sites, according to Lorraine Cichowski, vice president and general manager of USA Today Information Network. "This has been a consistent problem for USA Today since we launched the site," she says. Typically, readers who mis-type the URL stumble on the para-sites and alert USA Today Web editors. Cichowski says that her company's legal staff also monitors this issue closely and pro-actively seeks out para-sites. The lawyers send out letters to the domain name owners demanding that they stop using the URL and reminding them of USA Today's trademark rights, she says.

One such example of a questionable domain is, which is owned by Domain Names, Inc. of Houston, Texas. Going to takes you to a Web page announcing that the domain name is for sale. Cichowski says she wasn't aware of that one, but will have her legal staff look in to it.

Strong legal argument

According to Katherine White, a Raleigh, North Carolina, attorney who specializes in online publishing, the publishers cited above who have para-sites linking to pornography sites probably do have a strong legal case against the domain name holders. "They (para-sites) are certainly misleading consumers" who expect to go to the publications' Web sites, she says. "They are trading on the New York Times and Los Angeles Times name to get people to come to their sites."

White agrees that the concept of "trademark dilution" is a strong argument in publishers' favor. They also might argue that the para-site domain name holders are engaging in an "unfair and deceptive trade practice," she suggests.

White also urges publishers to make sure that they have registered a service mark on their domain name, which gives them additional protection in situations such as this. A newspaper's trademark on its name may not necessarily apply to a domain name which is a variation of the newspaper name.

Identifying the domain owner

Should you find a para-site for your domain, it's easy to learn who holds the domain name and contact them. Internic has a Whois service with which you can search for a domain name and receive the name and contact information for the domain holder. White House alter ego?

The para-site issue is not limited to news sites, of course. Consider the beleaguered Clinton White House, which has an official Web site at One of the busiest porn sites on the Web is -- which features a nude "White House Intern of the Month" and notes that it "is not affiliated with or endorsed by the U.S. government." The White House seems not to have decided to take on a legal fight over the "whitehouse" domain name. Given Bill Clinton's sex scandal troubles, perhaps this is not the right time to take on that battle.


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This column is written by Steve Outing for Editor & Publisher Interactive. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at

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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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