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5 August, 2004

Reverse cybersquatting

Neil Gaiman has already mentioned this, but I suspect it's an issue which would benefit from as much publicity as can be mustered.

In May 2000, the autobiographical account of Katie Tarbox's seduction by an online paedophile was published in the USA under the title 'Katie.com'.  A worthy subject, and it must have taken courage to write.

The problem is that Katie.com is a pre-existing domain name owned since 1996 by an entirely different Katie, a chat site proprietor in the UK.  With the book's publication, the website received some 100,000 visitors per day and Ms. Jones was swamped by unwanted e-mail, often harrowing accounts of molestation and rape.

Katie.com used to house Jones' CV, pictures of her young son, and a link to her professional site. The increased attention, including "... the wrong kind of attention from the wrong kind of people..." meant that content had to be removed for the safety of her business and family. Quoted by the Guardian in August 2000, Jones said:

"Now the domain name is always going to be associated with this book. It's not mine any more, it's theirs, and they didn't even ask me if they could have it."
The BBC also covered the story, and the fact that when Jones' lawyer, Jonathan Taylor, contacted the publishers (who had been the determining factor in the book's title):
In reply she got a strongly-worded letter from a leading freedom of speech lawyer retained by Penguin who said Ms Jones had no case.

The Guardian again:
Jones and Taylor both feel they're at the mercy of a large multinational publishing concern with unlimited resources. "If somebody wrote a book about dodgy booksellers, and called it 'Amazon.com', they wouldn't stand for it. They have huge resources and I don't have any," Jones said. "I have every sympathy with this girl; clearly something awful happened to her. But at the same time, that doesn't justify them using my domain name, whether it was her doing or the publishers."

This was bad enough in 2000, but the reason Neil G. mentioned it (also Boing Boing) was that more recently Katie J. has been contacted by an (allegedly) aggressive lawyer currently collaborating on a project with Katie T., effectively demanding that she surrender (sorry; 'donate') the domain name to them. Not only has the domain been hijacked by default (each time the book is mentioned in the media, unwelcome site traffic and e-mails peak again), there's now an attempt to formally take it from the rightful owner.

I can only sympathise with Katie Jones, and hope that negative publicity for the publisher and this lawyer might persuade them to act responsibly. After all, their cause is commendable; it's just their behaviour which is totally unreasonable.

See, yes, Katie.com for more details, an open letter to Katie Tarbox & Penguin, and updates.

Comments

time for a google bomb ;)

Posted by lil 'ol me at August 5, 2004 07:09 PM

This lawyer is ironically the founder and president of an online safety organization called wiredsafety.org which helps victims of harassment.

I've personally contacted the EFF (www.eff.org) and chillingeffects.org. I suggest others do so as well. Let's help Katie Jones!

Posted by JAH at August 5, 2004 10:03 PM
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