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For week ended December 26, 1999 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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Summarized by Kent Larsen

LDS Lawyer Becomes Domain-Name Bounty Hunter (Bounty Hunter, New Law Put Squeeze On Net Domain-Name Cybersquatters)
Wall Street Journal 20Dec99 P2
By Phyllis Plitch

NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- Former LDS missionary Gregory Phillips is getting a reputation as an Internet domain-name bounty hunter. A Salt Lake City lawyer, Phillips has arrived on the doorstep of "cybersquatters" demanding that they turn over domain names using clients' trademarks and corporate names. A controversial new U.S. law will also make his job easier, allowing trademark owners to collect damages from "cyberpirates."

Phillips tracks down those that register the names, or similar words, as internet domain names. His clients include major firms like Porsche AG, Volkswagen AG, Ford Motor Co. and Callaway Golf Co. Often cybersquatters are simply holding the names in an attempt to collect money from well-known companies who didn't register the names themselves. Sometimes the perpetrators try to hide by registering the names using bogus addresses, making it difficult to track down the registrant.

And even after he finds the cybersquatter, Phillips many times has to persuade them to cooperate. "We can do this the hard way or the easy way," he tells those holding domain names. "The easy way is sign over the name. The hard way is I walk out without an agreement and I have to sue you for damages." He recently tracked down three software engineers who had registered "every famous trademark imaginable" and eventually convinced them that his client would never pay the $10,000 to $15,000 they wanted. The trio had planned to use his clients' domain name to link to a pornography site.

On another occasion, he spent 15 hours, including extended chats over lunch and dinner, to persuade a recent college graduate in Sacramento to give up a domain name.

Now Phillips has a new tool to help in these disputes. President Clinton recently signed into law the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, which will allow trademark holders to collect as much as $100,000 in damages from cybersquatters. The law would also allow trademark holders to sue for the domain name directly, effectively having the court order the registrar for the domain name, to change the registration.

"Congress wanted to make clear that in egregious cases, [trademark holders] can get $100,000," said Phillips. "Cyberpirates better wise up; otherwise they're going to start getting nailed."

But the new legislation is controversial. Internet advocates don't like the fact that a U.S. law is controlling the Internet, which they see as outside the control of any one nation. "The legislation is making U.S. trademark law the law of the Net because a root server resides in the United States," said Kathryn Kleiman, a senior policy analyst for the Association for Computing Machinery's Internet governance committee. "This type of international jurisdiction by a single government is exactly what ICANN is trying to avoid."


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